POSTED ON MARCH 9, 2011:
A superb cast sneaks in subversive antics
I've been on a rough patch recently with comedies. Blame it on the graveyard release mentality that turns the early months of the year as a dumping ground for the underwhelming. February releases Just Go With It and Hall Pass might have done decent box office, but that doesn't mean they were any good. They weren't funny at all, hence my current losing streak that I'm bound and determined to shake free. To be honest, I am starting to go over the deep end thinking about watching another comedy and not laughing once.
Inspired by the proverb regarding how failure is not getting back up after falling down, I eagerly chose to review Cedar Rapids this week. What's the worst that could happen if I didn't like the movie? It just means I've seen another sub-par film to add to my growing list of bad movies in 2011. However, Cedar Rapids just ended that streak and maybe started a new one. Filled with much to like, the best thing about Cedar Rapids is the terrific cast delivering sneaky doses of subversive antics while also being extremely likable. But best of all, Cedar Rapids is funny and that's such a refreshing thing to witness this year.
Ed Helms (The Hangover, The Office) plays Tim Lippe, an insurance salesman who believes his small town values he latches onto make him honest and dependable, something most insurance agents don't have the reputation of being. Tim works for Brown Star Insurance in Brown Valley, Wisconsin and they promote themselves as a "good, Christian" company whose motto is "We insure your dreams." Tim believes those words with every fiber of his beating, red American heart. Every year the prestigious "Two Diamond" award is handed out to a select group of insurance companies in the Midwest that have the highest standard of ethics and Brown Star depends on that award to attach to their advertising.
Due to the accidental death of a colleague during a bit of autoerotic asphyxiation without a spotter, Tim is sent to the big city of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, to get those precious diamonds for Brown Star Insurance. Tim hasn't left the safety net of Brown Valley much. I'm not sure he's ever left as he's never flown, prefers to travel with a stack of traveler's checks like it's 1985 and straps on a money belt under his shirt so sturdy it would make a senior citizen enjoying a port of call in the Caribbean blush with envy. Bring on the Linn County seat and the second largest city in Iowa!
Trouble begins almost immediately when Tim gets to his hotel in Cedar Rapids as he's forced to hand over his credit card for incidental charges. These could be big city thieves after all. Then, after being specifically told by his boss (played by the always stellar Stephen Root with manic ferocity) to avoid Dean Ziegler at all costs, who do you think becomes the third roommate in his junior suite? That's right, Ziegler, a loud, vulgar, brash drunkard who is the complete opposite of the tee totaling Tim. A loosening of the money belt might have to happen for Tim and Ziegler to get along.
Raging Rapids. Written by first time screenwriter Phil Johnston and directed by Miguel Arteta, Cedar Rapids has an understated style that creates unexpected moments that ring believable while also producing laughter. We live in an era of over forced comedy and while some of the characters are over the top, it never feels completely unrealistic.
I loved the comic tone of Cedar Rapids. Written by first time screenwriter Phil Johnston and directed by Miguel Arteta it has an understated style that creates unexpected moments that ring believable while also producing laughter (something hard to do in tandem). We live in an era of over forced comedy and while some of the characters in Cedar Rapids are over the top (Dean Ziegler for one), it never feels completely unrealistic. Arteta's previous films range from the cringe-comedy Chuck and Buck, the under appreciated The Good Girl and 2009's Youth In Revolt. His films depend as much on drama as they do comedy and his style is wry, spare and intelligent. Cedar Rapids is the most enjoyable of all Arteta movies to date.
Johnston and Arteta attach a subtle layer of satire into the story. It's there, it's just not hit you on the skull there like some satire tends to be. Its soft targets include the small town business that likes to attach the importance of faith to the company's attributes all the while having a different face that the public doesn't see. The "two diamond" award is more an object of greed than ethics and these are lessons Tim will learn as the story progresses. I love satire, but I most enjoy the sort that is nearly invisible, barely noticed below the surface as it exposes hypocrisy or behavior.
The casting and performances in Cedar Rapids are flawless. Helms is perfect as the naive, gullible, wide-eyed man who comes to the city and gets his world turned upside down in the span of a few days. John C. Reilly gets to do a lot of broad, physical comedy while unleashing a string of profanities and is hilarious (as he often is). Anne Heche, who I haven't seen in anything for at least a decade is charming as the female free spirit in their group. My favorite addition to the cast might have been little used character actor Isiah Whitlock Jr, who, playing against type, gets to unload a double dose of jokes relating to The Wire (he played dirty politician Clay Davis the cult show) including an impression of "Omar" that kills. This is a man that should be getting more roles and why Whitlock isn't baffles me. The man has presence and that is something most actors can't buy.
A wonderful blending of outlandish and likable characters, drama and comedy, the ribald and the sweet, Cedar Rapids is the first funny film in 2011. Full of many things to enjoy, it has perfect casting with actors who know how to deliver humorous performances and is directed by Miguel Arteta's sly hand. Cedar Rapids just started a new streak for me. I hope it lasts the next 42 weeks of the year. That probably won't happen, but I'm a dreamer.
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