You’ll struggle to find a more insubstantial film than Cedar Rapids this year, a well cast but weakly stitched together comedy that encourages yawning over laughter. With talented comedic actors like Ed Helms and John C. Reilly onboard a couple of good gags were inevitable, but for an 87 minute diversion the picture drags at an excruciating rate.
A well intentioned insurance salesman, Tim Lippe (Ed Helms) has never left his small hometown of Brown Valley Wisconsin. After an ignoble death within the insurance company, Tim is instructed to attend a conference in Cedar Rapids, entrusted to win a pivotal industry award whilst there. On arrival he is overwhelmed by the size of the location, and his seemingly worldly peers (including a sweet Anne Heche and a manic John C. Reilly). Initially resistant, Tim is eventually seduced by the drink, drugs, corruption and sex that seem to pollute Cedar Rapids, causing him to lose his composure at a critical turning point in his career.
Cedar Rapids is directed by Miguel Arteta, a filmmaker who has struggled for form since his impressive 2002 gambit The Good Girl. Last year Arteta helmed Michael Cera in the mediocre Youth in Revolt, and here he guides Ed Helms up a similarly unexciting path. Cedar Rapids lacks the focus to provide an involving narrative, and more importantly the energy to work as a successful comedy. Leaving aside the valiant efforts of its leads, Cedar Rapids is a flat motion picture, as uninspiring to dissect as it is to watch. The film’s lack of hostility is an agreeable bonus, as are the handful of guffaws it provides, but ultimately the movie never achieves the sense of hysterical self-destruction it’s so obviously aiming for. Arteta’s fiercely lame direction is probably the key concern, but the screenplay never rises to the challenge either, failing to capture the high octane nightmarish hilarity of say, The Hangover.
The cinematography and musical accompaniment aren’t great, further slaying the buzz Cedar Rapids so desperately needs to generate. Helms is likable enough as the bumbling lead, but its John C. Reilly who does the majority of the heavy lifting, without him the production wouldn’t so much middling, as utterly miserable. A talented group of supporters including the aforementioned Heche, Isiah Whitlock Jr., Rob Corrdry and Stephen Root help bolster the film’s credibility, but even they can’t overcome the inherent blandness of the property at large.
The overarching message of Cedar Rapids would appear to be that experiencing life at its fullest is important, but don’t let your moral compass become distorted in the process; hardly a revelatory note on which to culminate the movie. Cedar Rapids has its heart in the right place, and there are several giggles to be had, but otherwise it’s sort of a dreary affair.
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