Dir. by Miguel Arteta - 1 hr. 27 min.
by Clayton Hollifield
There's something about Ed Helms that makes me want to see bad things happen to him (on screen, of course), and then watch him freak out about it. That's the basis of both of the "Hangover" movies, and to a much lesser extent, "Cedar Rapids." But don't worry, there are a couple of classic freak-out scenes here.
Helms plays an insurance salesman pressed into giving a presentation at an insurance confidence with little preparation, in an attempt to win an award that his colleague had won each of the last three years. So, no pressure there. His character, Tim Lippe, is the sort of guy who has never left his small town or flown, who offers butterscotches to a prostitute, who wants desperately to please the people around him. During the course of the conference, the wheels fall off of pretty much everything in his life, which ends up being a positive development.
The movie itself is a sort of "welcome to the real world" story, steeped heavily in Midwestern charm and normality. One thing that's pretty notable about "Cedar Rapids" is that the humor isn't as shocking as you might expect, given Helms' other work. But when you set the bar for normal behavior at the unrelentingly friendly and wholesome, you don't have to go as far to get the same laughs. When Tim has a fling with Anne Heche's character, the plot point that godliness is one of the things Tim will be judged on in the running for the Two Diamonds award, I was rooting for him even as he was throwing his opportunity for that award down the drain. This also sets the stage for his first real freak-out, the "I'm a philanderer" scene.
Most of the humor comes out of the differences between the characters. Tim Lippe is a straight-arrow, one who has to have his arm twisted to even have a drink. Dean Ziegler (John C. Reilly) is a frequently drunk, just-as-frequently coarse walking argument for ignoring a moral code. Ronald Wilkes (Isaih Whitlock Jr.) is Urkel grown up and gone insurance salesman, who has an affinity for the HBO program "The Wire." Joan (Anne Heche) is, as Tim puts it, "weird." She's married with kids, and relishes the yearly opportunity to be someone different at the conference. They're kind of caricatures, but sharply-drawn ones, and they work very well off of one another (which can happen when you've got a bunch of really good comedic actors). It ends up being believable that they'd end up being friends with one another.
"Cedar Rapids" is pleasant, it's funny, it's proof that you don't have to do an "R-Rated Comedy" to have an R-rating and still be funny. It's very much an adult movie, in the sense that it's not hard for an adult to relate to the motivations of the characters (things like being stuck in a rut, having to perform at your job "or else," the unexpected joy of finding new friends as an adult) and their reactions to certain situations. That's a neat accomplishment for any film.
3 / 5 - DVD