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Originally published March 18, 2010 at 3:01 PM | Page modified March 18, 2010 at 4:21 PM

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Movie review

'Diary of a Wimpy Kid': stuck in middle school with a pretty cool cast

"Diary of a Wimpy Kid," based on the novel by Jeff Kinney, is an agreeable if flawed comedy for the whole family. Zachary Gordon stars as the undersized hero trying to survive middle school.

Special to The Seattle Times

Movie review 2.5 stars

'Diary of a Wimpy Kid,' with Zachary Gordon, Steve Zahn, Rachael Harris, Chloe Moretz, Robert Capron, Karan Brar, Devon Bostick, Laine MacNeil. Directed by Thor Freudenthal, from a screenplay by Jackie Filgo, Jeff Filgo, Jeff Judah and Gabe Sachs, based on the novel by Jeff Kinney. 120 minutes. Rated PG for rude humor and language. Several theaters.

MOVIE REVIEW 2.5 stars

A lively comedy for the whole family, "Diary of a Wimpy Kid" is based on a clever novel (part of a series by Jeff Kinney) about surviving preadolescence in the battleground of middle school.

Kinney's approach is to make the book and its sequels resemble a handwritten diary — or "journal," insists the story's pocket-size hero, Greg Heffley (Zachary Gordon) — complete with unflattering line drawings of the fictional self-chronicler and his few allies and many persecutors. Between live-action scenes, the film makes spare but winning use of Gordon's approach, giving the audience an occasional glimpse of Greg's block-lettered memoirs and briefly animating some of the drawings for comic accent.

Otherwise, for anyone who remembers the Fred Savage television sitcom "The Wonder Years," "Wimpy Kid" is like an extended episode of that popular show, including a central character tormented by an older brother and loosely guided through life by a distracted dad and a mom with low-key dignity. As with Savage's highly self-conscious and often ethically challenged status climber, Greg has many a moment where he's willing to throw a friend under the bus or do something positive for the wrong reasons.

That makes Greg sympathetic but not always likable, which isn't a problem in character terms but often reduces Gordon's screen time to reaction shots of suppressed humiliation or disappointment or shame. There's a monotony to Gordon's performance that is not really his fault, though he's surrounded by an able cast of young performers who keep the movie's energy up.

Among them is local actor Karan Brar, very funny in several scenes; Robert Capron as Greg's pal Rowley, whose ride from pariah to prince among judgmental peers has a delightfully authentic feel; and Devon Bostick as Greg's sadistic sibling, who delivers the film's best line-reading after being charged with offending all women.

Young actresses are more shortchanged, unfortunately, especially the talented Laine MacNeil as a stock, self- aggrandizing shrew at school, and the interesting Chloe Moretz as an equally thin stereotype, a vaguely mature-beyond-her-years semi-outsider. The poorly conceived females include Greg's mom, salvaged by the slightly weird rectitude brought by comic actress Rachael Harris. (As Mr. Heffley, Steve Zahn pretty much dismisses himself as an agreeable, one-note joke.)

Director Thor Freudenthal ("Hotel for Dogs") keeps the proceedings moving briskly, and his eye for the occasional, irresistible visual (a bunch of elementary-school kids standing expectantly in a hole) spices things up. If there's a sequel on the horizon, a few improvements could make the next "Wimpy Kid" a flyweight contender.

Tom Keogh: tomwkeogh@yahoo.com

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