Ed Helms (Andy from The Office) plays Tim Lippe, an insurance salesman from tiny town Brown Valley, Wisconsin, whose trip to Cedar Rapids for an insurance convention is like visiting Europe. Lippe’s arrested development clashes with the opulent boisterousness of roommate Dean Zeigler (John C. Reilly). When Lippe’s charming naïveté attracts feisty redhead, Joan Ostrowski-Fox (Anne Heche), Lippe is catapulted into adulthood.
Cedar Rapids isn’t bad enough to provide adequate fodder for a scathing, snarky critique, but it’s not good enough to merit much praise either. The only thing buoying the sinking ship is the cast, which also includes Sigourney Weaver, Isiah Whitlock Jr., Kurtwood Smith, Alia Shawkat.
The biggest offender (aside from the director) is writer Philip Johnston since, as previously mentioned, there were only enough jokes for the trailer – and even when those trailer jokes are delivered in the film, they’re provided with little setup for adequate payoff. It felt like someone putting flat tires onto a new car.
If you’ve seen the trailer, the narrator’s voice and the last joke about two bags of peanuts make you think it will be tinged with stylistic flourishes propelling the comedy. None of it is in the film. There’s not even a shot of the bag of peanuts – they shot that just for the trailer.
It remains arguable if the filmmakers were looking for laughter or drama, but the film’s tonal shift toward the end was as striking, not for boldness, but for its mishandling.
MINOR SPOILER, SKIP PARAGRAPH
Because during Lippe’s brush with the real world he ends up smoking crack with a prostitute–which, if contextualized by a redonkulous film akin to “Like a Boss”, wouldn’t be so jarring. But Cedar Rapids tries to juggle jokes with sincerity, which undermines Lippe’s brush with hardcore drugs. The film is taking itself seriously while tossing jokes – you can’t just throw crack into that environment without disrupting things. Trying pot for this sheltered character would be funny, but smoking crack? I’m too busy imagining Lippe losing his teeth and stealing DVD players to get his next fix to even consider laughing.
At least, that’s if it’s supposed to be funny. Even if it’s supposed to pack some drama into the picture, just like the jokes, it lacks a proper setup to get the audience on board.
MINOR SPOILERS OVER
It has a strong cast and an enticing trailer, but don’t get snookered. Cedar Rapids: an anemic comedy.