Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Opens locally Friday, February 18th, 2011 (check local showtimes)
Run Time: 1 hour, 27 minutes, Rated R
Starring: Ed Helms, John C. Reilly, Anne Heche, Isiah Whitlock Jr., Stephen Root, Kurtwood Smith
Directed by Miguel Arteta (Youth in Revolt)
"Cedar Rapids" is a seemingly innocent and straight-forward comedy that has a lot of things going for it. Ironically, it's also raunchy and low-brow at times. It reminded me a lot of "The 40 Year Old Virgin", a hilarious adult comedy with a wholesome man-child at it's center. If you liked that movie, you'll probably love "Cedar Rapids", as "Cedar Rapids" matches it in laughs and tone, but somehow manages to come across as a more important film. It's a coming-of-age story, except the person coming of age is approaching 40.
The Plot. Ed Helms is Tim Lippe, an insurance salesman who has never left his small town. He doesn't have much life experience at all, and he is sleeping with his former music teacher, a kind-hearted cougar played by Sigourney Weaver. He's asked by his company to travel to the annual insurance convention in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, to represent his branch in hopes of winning the prestigious "2 Diamond" Award. Tim Lippe is the kind of guy who's never been on a plane, never been to a hotel. A bit of a stretch, but Ed Helms is the master of nerdy cluelessness.
When Tim is told by his boss (played by Stephen Root, a long way away from his Milton character in "Office Space") to avoid the sharky salesman Dean Ziegler (John C. Reilly), guess who he ends up rooming with. On this trip, Tim learns a lot about the world, about love, friendship, and most importantly himself.
Cast of Characters. I'm a fan of TV's "The Office," and Ed Helms is playing essentially the same goofball character, with maybe a little more insecurity thrown in. But he is pitch-perfect in the role, never going over-the-top and treating Tim Lippe like a real person. His innocence makes John C. Reilly's Dean Zeigler seem like even more of a boob...Dean is the classic caricature of id gone wild, the boorish party animal who will literally say or do anything. Anne Heche has a lot of fun in her role as well, a married gal who has eyes for Tim Lippe and is awe-struck by his innocence. She lives by the old motto, "what happens in Cedar Rapids, stays in Cedar Rapids." Fans of HBO's The Wire will recognize Isiah Whitlock Jr., who even references the show in a hilarious sequence that also features a cameo from Hot Tub Time Machine's Rob Corddry.
The film relies heavily on the performances of Helms, Reilly, and Heche, with some of these memorable supporting characters as well. But it also trusts the material. Comedy directors don't often get credit (unless you're Judd Apatow), but director Miguel Arteta adds delicate touches to the entire film, making it seem as simple and innocent as the film's protagonist.
Comedy Central. With all that being said, if the film wasn't funny, none of this would work. And the film is very, very funny, in that touching kind of way. It's hard to root against characters like Tim Lippe. Even the obnoxious Dean Zeigler we see has a respectable code of friendship, and we see that he is more than the first impression may suggest.
Even so, the movie does fall along some cliched lines. Apparently "coming-of-age" in a movie these days revolves around heavy partying, drinking, sexual escapades, and doing lots of drugs. There is the corrupt and over-bearing boss, the tidy happy ending. As Tim opens his eyes to the real world, and has some of his fantasies shattered, he grows up in the process. We all have to come to terms with reality and the way the world works, so movies like this are relatable and enjoyable, especially when handled so elegantly.
It should also be pointed out that "Cedar Rapids" was shot entirely in Michigan although the movie takes place in Iowa...all the more reason to check it out and see if you recognize any landmarks.
Bottom Line. At 87 minutes, "Cedar Rapids" is just about the right length, and right at the end I thought they were setting up a sequel...they werent. But stay for the credits to enjoy some bonus scenes that'll make you leave the theater feeling warm and fuzzy inside. It's a good-hearted movie that has a dirty-streak, and although not perfect, it's definitely one of the better comedies in quite some time.
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