March 6, 2011

Movie Review: Cedar Rapids

Take one part The Hangover, mix in some Napoleon Dynamite, bake it in Middle America, serves whoever will watch. Cedar Rapids is a broad comedy with modest aspirations. An odd combination for a film that is this fitfully funny and could probably do well on the national stage, but it doesn't look like it is going to get the chance. The film, which made its premiere at Sundance, is funny, sporadically so, but it will make you laugh. It is a mis-matched buddy comedy mixed with a fish out of water comedy. Will you like it? Probably. Will you love it? No, not likely. It is a movie that will make you laugh in the moment but will forget about a little way down the line.

Ed Helms (The Office, The Hangover) steps into the naive, good guy shoes of Tim Lippe, Brownstar Insurance salesman. He still lives in his childhood home, is engaging in a golly gee affair with his junior high school teacher (Sigourney Weaver), and is just one of those nice sorts of fellows without a bad bone in his body. Cedar Rapids sees his small town attitude come face to face with the big city and the effects it has on his outlook.

Tim's boss,  Bill Krogstad (Stephen Root), dispatches him to a major insurance company convention in Cedar Rapids in hopes of bringing home the prestigious Two Diamonds award. This award apparently makes your insurance company a lot more desirable. Anyway, Tim heads off to Cedar Rapids where he is wowed by rental cars, hotel chains, the prostitute outside (Alia Shawkat), and the African-American man in his hotel room (Isiah Whitlock). The movie picks up when Tim meets his other roommate, Dean Zeigler (John C. Reilly), a loud mouthed, womanizing booze hound cynic. These three mis-matched buddies, along with  Joan Ostrowski-Fox (Ann Heche), proceed to get into plenty of trouble around the convention.

There isn't really anything new plot wise. Ziegler leads Tim into temptation, he screws things up for the award, he gets involved with a married woman, finds himself at a party with plenty of alcohol and drugs, and has his world view completely shattered before everyone finds their way back.

What makes the movie worthwhile is the fact that the characters, as broad as they are, are actually interesting and have actual arcs, they are not merely a collection of their jokes. Don't get me wrong, they are almost always leading into one joke or another and they play by volume, sure some of them miss, but when they land, they are pretty funny.

Ed Helms does a good job at playing the naive small town guy without making it a parody. His chemistry with John C. Reilley and the rest of the cast is quite good. This is what helps the movie succeed. They make their jokes, they make me laugh, and the characters follow their paths to the end.

Not great, but definitely entertaining.


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