When Judge Paul Pritchard dances with the tiger, he always leads.
Our review of Cedar Rapids (Blu-ray), published July 4th, 2011, is also available.
He's A Small Town Guy Headed For Big-Time Trouble.
"You have to be prepared to show a little teat."
Facts of the Case
Tim Lippe (Ed Helms, The Hangover) has never stepped foot out of his hometown of Brown Valley, Wisconsin, and seemingly has no intention of ever doing so. Tim works for Brownstar Insurance, and is seen as dependable due to his straight-laced ways and aversion to change. Tim is also in his first sexual relationship, with his old school teacher (Sigourney Weaver, Avatar).
When Tim is asked to attend the ASMI insurance broker convention in Cedar Rapids, following the unfortunate death of the team's star agent, he finds himself desperately out of his comfort zone. Tasked with winning the "Two Diamond" award, which will ensure the agency retains its status, Tim is warned to stay clear of Dean Ziegler (John C. Reilly, Chicago), a rival agent who attempted to undermine Brownstar some years ago.
Upon arriving at the convention, and immediately befriending a prostitute, Lippe finds himself sharing a room with Ziegler, much to his concern. He soon finds Ziegler to be the least of his worries, as corruption within the ASMI organization threatens Brownstar's chances of winning the award and risks the jobs of all Tim's co-workers.
The first thing to grab you about Cedar Rapids is its stellar cast. Hot from his turns in both The Office and The Hangover, Ed Helms is given a much-deserved star turn here, and is ably supported. Not only do we get the likes of Stephen Root (Dodgeball) and Rob Corddry (Hot Tub Time Machine), who seem to be amongst an ensemble of actors who frequent modern comedies, but some surprising names turn up, too. First Sigourney Weaver makes an appearance, then Anne Heche (Six Days, Seven Nights), Isiah Whitlock Jr. (The Wire), John C. Reilly, and Kurtwood Smith (That '70s Show), all in prominent roles. Though I found the opening 20 minutes slow, it mattered little as this succession of famous faces—all quality actors, too—get introduced. Surely things would pick up beyond the opening act setup?
Perhaps not. As it turned out, the film is unworthy of such talent. For all the good they do, they are only really masking the major problems with Cedar Rapids, chief amongst them being that it just isn't that funny, and that's bad news for a comedy.
John C. Reilly's role is blessed with the lion's share of gags, but all too often these are overly reliant on profanity and Reilly's overacting. Even the film's "crazier" moments, such as Helms' trip to a drug-fueled party, fall short in both craziness and laughs. At best the film might earn a polite giggle, but nothing more—good news for anyone watching the film following extensive back surgery and concerned they could do themselves a mischief with anything above a titter. Despite the film's marketing, which suggests a The Hangover-style laugh riot, Cedar Rapids is at its best when being more subtle, which Helms excels at.
The film's narrative is also terribly pedestrian. The story is all too familiar, as Helms plays the small town yokel who finds himself desperately out of his depth when he's sent to the big city on a business trip. Almost immediately his innocence is corrupted by a bunch of degenerates, who lead him astray, whilst simultaneously losing faith in his own beliefs when he comes to understand that big business doesn't play by the same (fair) rules he does. Of course, he eventually comes round, realizing he was okay all along, and sets about bringing down the corrupt city folk with some good old-fashioned honesty. This wouldn't have been so bad if Cedar Rapids had anything new to say. Hell, it wouldn't have been so bad if it had anything to say, but it doesn't. There are a number of plot developments—particularly towards the end—that feel like they've been shoehorned in for dramatic effect, rather than being allowed to develop organically. There are characters who are pivotal to driving the movie forward, yet have such small and insignificant roles it's hard to feel anything for them, least of all disdain or sympathy.
The final nail in the coffin of Cedar Rapids comes from the film's inability to connect with its audience, primarily due to its central characters and their amoral actions. At what point are we supposed to sympathize with people who, it would seem, don't consider infidelity a big deal? This leads to another issue, that being how the film raises a few interesting ideas but fails to follow through on them. Anne Heche's role in particular touches upon a serious issue—that being women feeling stuck in a rut, yet unable to break free due to their commitments as a parent—which could have made for a far richer film. It's to the credit of Heche that she still manages to earn the viewers sympathy, despite the role as it's written being undeserving of such. As it stands, Cedar Rapids seems unsure of what it wants to be; there are moments of real heart—the relationship between Helms and Weaver culminates in an emotionally driven scene that sees Weaver deliver a touching goodbye—but such moments are never given enough time to make an impact, as the screenplay clumsily hurtles head first into the next gag. This imbalance means the film never truly flows naturally, and instead jerks wildly from one scene to the next, with the tone shifting in a similarly disorienting fashion.
Extras on this single disc release kick off with the usual deleted scenes and gag reel, but are joined by a selection of slightly more impressive featurettes. These include "Top Notch Commercial," a faux TV commercial for the insurance agency featured in the film; "Mike O'Malley: Urban Clogger," which features the actor preparing for his role; and "Wedding Belles—Crashing a Lesbian Wedding," which goes behind the scenes of one of the more memorable moments in the film.
The film is presented in a 1.85:1 anamorphic transfer. The picture remains sharp, with colors having a natural appearance throughout. The 5.1 soundtrack is solid, rather than spectacular. What it does is fine, but it never comes close to pushing your surround sound system, though to be fair, films such as this don't really need an expansive mix.
Lacking in energy, point, or purpose, Cedar Rapids is so middling that it will take significantly less than the 87-minute running time for most viewers to forget it. It's not awful by any means; it's just average, and with a cast like this, that's not good enough.
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