Comedies like Cedar Rapids are a dime a dozen; fish-out-of-water stories where a group of misfits are forced to work out their differences and everyone learns something (well, almost everyone). What keeps Cedar Rapids above water, albeit just a little, is the excellent casting decision in the form of John C. Reilly. The man’s ability to take words you’ve heard your entire life and present them as if you’re hearing them for the first time is the sign of a true comic genius.
Tim Lippe (Ed Helms) lives in Brown Valley, Wisconsin, small town USA, where the insurance agents of Brown Star know everyone in town by name and everyone knows them. Having won the 2 Diamonds award for three years running, a tragic accident with their top-notch agent necessitates that Tim Lippe (Ed Helms), and upstanding citizen, who happens to be banging his elementary school teacher, Macy Vanderhei (Sigourney Weaver), makes the journey to Cedar Rapids, Iowa to the ASMI convention, headed by Orin Helgesson (Kurtwood Smith), where insurance agents from all over compete to win the prestigious 2 Diamonds award. Apart from sleeping with his elementary school teacher, Macy Vanderhei (Sigourney Weaver), Tim’s a straight arrow, but now the pressure is on from Bill (Stephen Root), Tim’s “good Christian” boss, who quickly becomes “less Christian” when his short temper flares due to Tim’s ineptness, to do whatever he has to in order to win the 2 Diamonds for Brown Star.
The awkward and naïve Tim is about to have his world turned upside down. Once he gets past Bree (Alia Shawkat), who makes it clear that she likes to “party”, and his clean-cut and well-spoken roommate, Ronald (Isiah Whitlock Jr.), Tim is informed that they’re getting a third roommate, Dean Ziegler (John C. Reilly), who is one of two people Bill instructed him to avoid at all costs. After an awkward introduction in the gym to Joan (Anne Heche), a Jodie Foster-looking redheaded firecracker, the band of misfits is complete.
I heard good things about Cedar Rapids since its premiere at Sundance, but after the first 15 minutes or so I feared I’d been misled, that is, until John C. Reilly came onto the scene. Every moment Reilly is on-screen is pure comedy gold. Everything from his line delivery to his posture is top-notch comedy (there’s not too many things in life funnier than John C. Reilly drunk in a pool with a trash can lid on his head). Reilly’s Dean Ziegler is what gives the film momentum and keeps it from being bogged down by the other problems haunting the film. That’s not to say the rest of the cast is bad, they’re just overshadowed by the presence of Reilly. Dean Ziegler, or Deanzy, as he so often refers to himself, is a force to be reckoned with, check that, he’s a force no one can reckon with. Amidst all the vulgarity and outlandish behavior, one of the greatest aspects of Deanzy is that you’re never sure if he’s friend or foe, and for that matter, neither does Tim.
The rest of the cast provides an assortment of laughs, Ed Helms, is, well, Ed Helms. Much like Michael Cera, I enjoy Helms’ work, but he needs to be careful, because he’s well on his way to a life of being typecast as the awkward, naÏve guy. Anne Heche’s Joan is a sexual tiger and her numerous inappropriate moments are what make her likable. Isiah Whitlock Jr. is the only solid rock with his straight-laced approach to Ronald, who enjoys making reference to HBO’sThe Wire. Watching Stephen Root flip out is always a joy, it’s just a shame we don’t get to see more of it here.
What hurts Cedar Rapids the most is the little things. A few rewrites and edits could easily turn Cedar Rapids into a solid comedy. There’s a scene, later in the film, that takes the characters out of the ASMI convention. The scene feels out-of-place and needlessly takes the viewer out of the hotel. Also, the more we learn about Joan’s personal life the less likable she becomes, this whole side-story should have been cut, it takes away from the character and lets some of the steam out of the comedy. With these cuts, a few rewrites, and more scenes with John C. Reilly, Cedar Rapids could have been a great comedy, instead we’re left with an okay comedy with a standout performance.
Despite its shortcomings, Cedar Rapids is a mostly enjoyable film. It’s worth seeing for John C. Reilly’s performance alone, but you can wait until its released on video before seeking it out.
Cedar Rapids is out in cinemas 29th April 2011.
Director: Miguel Arteta
Writer: Phil Johnston
Cast: Ed Helms, John C. Reilly, Anne Heche, Isiah Whitlock Jr., Stephen Root, Kurtwood Smith, Alia Shawkat, Sigourney Weaver
Runtime: 87 minutes