With stick figures and crisply funny journal entries, Jeff Kinney’s cartoon series breathed fresh life into pre-teen lit’s most exhausted trope—the twisted tribal etiquette of middle school. Screenwriters Jackie and Jeff Filgo’s respect for Kinney’s sharply observant dialogue is the chief virtue of this fairly capable screen version. But the transition to live action is, stylistically, a trip to the ordinary in the hands of director Thor Freudenthal (though it’s still a step up from his excruciating Hotel for Dogs). For Greg Heffley (Zachary Gordon), a flawed wiseguy cursed with small stature and an inflated view of his own gifts, middle school is an endless obstacle race against his own shortcomings as well as big bullies, more evolved girls, and stray boogers, not to mention a slice of cootie-ridden cheese festering in the schoolyard. Diary of a Wimpy Kid is sweet and funny at either end, but in between, it sags with endless repetition of gross bodily functions and Greg’s torment at the hands of larger, angrier, or more popular kids—in that order. Robert Capron is pure joy as the fat best friend who knows who he is, enjoys life, and practices loyalty by instinct.