Fox // 2011 // 87 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Patrick Naugle // July 4th, 2011
It's a state of mind.
Starting off as a correspondent for Comedy Central's The Daily Show, Ed Helms has slowly but steadily carved himself a niche in the comedy world. When he appeared on NBC's The Office he was a mildly amusing side character (Andy, AKA "The Nard Dog") who has quickly become one of the show's funniest lead actors. After the hit The Hangover took the world by storm, Helms is a now in-demand actor who heads up Cedar Rapids in his first starring role, now available on Blu-ray care of Fox Home Entertainment.
Tim Lippe (Ed Helms) is a grown single man who is inexperienced when it comes to anything outside the town of Brown Valley, Wisconsin. Although he's having his first sexual encounter with an ex-teacher (Sigourney Weaver, Working Girl) and owns a house, that's about the extent of his life experience. When one of Tim's most respected co-workers at the BrownStar Insurance agency dies under mysteriously comedic circumstances, Tim is asked by his boss (Stephen Root, Office Space) to attend the ASMI broker convention. Tim is given two rules for this trip assignment: bring home the coveted 'Two Diamond' award (given for excellence in demonstrating "a commitment to community, country and God") and don't interact with Dean Ziegler (John C. Reilly, Step Brothers), a client poaching, hard partying insurance rival.
When Tim finally arrives at the convention center in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, he is, naturally, paired up with Ziegler as his hotel roommate and befriends Ronald Wilkes (Isiah Whitlock Jr, The Wire), a straight-as-an-arrow bachelor and Joan Ostrowski-Fox (Anne Heche, Volcano), an attractive mother and wife who sees these conventions as a wild mini-vacation from her mundane existence. As the week progresses this motley group will find themselves in more trouble than they want, as Tim attempts to bring home the top award that could save not only his job but the entire company.
I went into Cedar Rapids knowing only two things about the movie: 1.) it was a comedy and 2.) it starred Ed Helms, a recurring character from one of my favorite television shows, The Office. It's a rare occurrence when that happens; most movies are bombarded so heavily into our heads through advertising and marketing that I can usually tell you point-for-point what will happen during the film without having seen it yet. Not the case with Cedar Rapids -- I was blissfully ignorant of the story or characters.
I was happy not to have known anything about Cedar Rapids. It made the movie that much better. It's a funny film -- not fall down, side splitting funny, mind you. It's got a much more subversive sense of humor that sort of creeps up on you. A lot of this has to do with Ed Helms and his portrayal of Tim Lippe (pronounced "Lippy") in all his splendid innocence. The movie sort of reminded me of the Farrlley brothers comedy Kingpin, where Randy Quaid plays an Amish man who is taken around on a bowling circuit by a sleazy Woody Harrelson. Cedar Rapids has that air about it, a fish-out-of-water tale where a innocent is slowly shown the workings of the real world. Helms has that rare quality in an actor (much like his TV co-star Steve Carrell) that can play doe eyed innocence with real conviction. Ed Helms is truly the glue that holds Cedar Rapids together and without him this would have been just another mildly amusing comedy.
Comedies often rise and fall by their supporting cast, and Cedar Rapids has a very good one to help move the story to its final, not-so-shocking conclusion. Best among them is Isiah Whitlock Jr. as Roger, a fellow insurance salesman who is into antiquing and community theater and speaks in a monotone drawl that sounds like a black person doing an impression of a while person, but you know that's not Whitlock's intent. The character of Roger feels like a coiled cobra, ready to hit as he hides behind a veneer of mild mannered mannerisms. Whitlock truly shines in one scene where he helps to rescue Tim out of a major predicament, and it's at this moment that the character really shines (and provides the film with its funniest moment).
Other actors do fine work, including Anne Heche (almost unrecognizable to me) as a fellow saleswoman that catches Tim's eye. John C. Reilly -- an actor I've personally never warmed to -- does some of his best work as Ziegler, all slicked back fading hairline and boisterous blustering. Reilly manages to take a character who is obnoxious and distasteful and make him surprisingly relatable. A host of other character actors -- including That '70s Show star Kurtwood Smith and Arrested Development's Ali Shawkat -- find just the right note to make their character memorable.
Some scenes shine as comedic gold. A pool party inside the hotel turns into a gut-busting moment of awkward hilarity. Tim's run in at a drug house and his subsequent adventures prove to be some of the most amusing moments of the year. The nice thing about Cedar Rapids is that I really enjoyed spending time with these characters; although some of them do things that are sleazy and unappealing, we still like who they are at the end of the day, making the whole story that much more relatable to the viewer.
Cedar Rapids is presented in 1.85:1 widescreen in a 1080p transfer. I don't have a lot of complaints to report about this transfer -- it looks very good with a clean picture (no dirt or other defects exist in the image) and sharp colors and black levels. The film was shot with an Arriflex D-21 camera but looks so film-like that you won't be able to tell the difference. Overall this is a wonderful looking image that gets the job done, and gets it done well.
The soundtrack is presented in DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1. I don't have quite as high praise for the soundtrack, though it's not for a lack of trying -- like a lot of comedies, Cedar Rapids is a front heavy mix that doesn't really need a big, huge Michael Bay-esque sound mix. The biggest boost to the soundtrack is through the film score, though even that feels sparse at times. Dialogue and sound effects are all clearly recorded and easily distinguished. Also included on this disc is a Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 mix as well as English, French and Spanish subtitles.
The extra features included on this Bu-ray disc include some deleted scenes, a gag reel, "Convention Connection" (interviews with the stars), "Mike O'Malley: Urban Clogger" (showcasing O'Malley learning how to 'clog'), "Tweaking in the USA" (about the film's 'drug house'), "Wedding Belles: Crashing a Lesbian Wedding" (a short featurette on...oh, take a guess), some fake insurance commercials from the film, a theatrical trailer for the film, an interview with director Miguel Arteta, an short featurette on Phil Johnson's inspirations for the film's screenplay and some BD-Live content.
Also included in this package is a digital copy of the film.
If the movie has any real failing it's that the whole thing feels like an extended pilot for some mid-season replacement comedy series that wasn't picked up by the networks. The scope of the film is small -- most of it takes place inside a hotel -- and just doesn't feel overly 'cinematic.' In fact, I feel that it most likely will play better on small screens than it did on the big ones. Cedar Rapids is not the best comedy of the year, but it is a very enjoyable one.
Cedar Rapids is well worth the trip.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Spanish)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 87 Minutes
Release Year: 2011
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Deleted Scenes
* Gag Reel
* Fake Commercials
* Digital Copy