Who's In It: Zachary Gordon, Devon Bostick, Rachael Harris, Robert Capron, Steve Zahn
The Basics: The humiliating trials of 6th grade behind him, "wimpy kid" Greg (Gordon, seemingly not having grown one millimeter from the first film to this one, suggesting a quick turnaround in production schedules) enters a relatively calm 7th grade even though he still struggles for popularity, dodges tall girls who want to beat him up and has to deal with a mean older brother (Bostick) obsessed with tormenting his younger sibling. Along come the last film's background-level parents (Harris and Zahn, who seem content just to be part of a successful franchise), stepping up their presence with a challenge to the warring siblings: bond or else.
What's The Deal: By shifting focus from the horrors of middle school to the comparatively more comfortable bummer of life with a big bad brother, this installment winds up losing steam. Where the first movie relied on kid commiseration, visual wittiness and vital tween lessons like, "Don't be a jerk to your friends, even if they're geeks," this one spends most of its time moving from one slapstick set piece to the next and, sadly, getting the details of real life all wrong. In other words, it's about older kids but its target audience is now much younger. And that's fine. If you're an elementary school kid and you want to see a movie that'll allow you to fantasize about the funny stuff that's going to happen when you're a big middle schooler, here's what you ordered. But real 7th graders will probably take a pass and buy a ticket to Sucker Punch.
How It Backfires: It's one thing to be a vacillating, sometimes misunderstood smart-ass, but this series' main character seems to be turning mean. I'm not sure that's where they're intending to take him, but that's how it's unfolding. He's self-aware, self-conscious and self-aggrandizing, but he's not reflective. And it makes you wind up rooting for the nerdy pals he takes his frustrations out on instead of for him.
Where It Ought To Go Next: To a plotline where he becomes a genuine social pariah in the 8th grade, just like Chloe Moretz's character was in the first film. (Her Howl-reading misfit is missing from this one.) It would help shift the focus back to the absurdity of jockeying for social position. As it stands now, this character is way too invested in being popular.