Cedar Rapids (***)

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A good natured comedy that wants to be the naïve little cousin to The Hangover pretty badly, Cedar Rapids succeeds largely based on its small town style charm.  The movie has some funny moments, but often settles for being a little funny instead of getting the gut busting moments that normally mark successful movies of this ilk.  It also gets some strong chemistry from its cast, led by Ed Helms in the lead role.  Director Miguel Arteta has done better work before, but there’s nothing wrong with this flick.  It sort of straddles the line between being a mainstream acceptable comedy and a somewhat indie one, but that just gives it somewhat of a unique identity.  I didn’t crack up much during Cedar Rapids, but I did smile a lot.

Tim Lippe (Helms) is a small town insurance salesman who’s not a man-child, but just super naïve, trusting, and rooted in small town values.  For example: he’s sleeping with a former teacher of his (Sigourney Weaver), and he considers them an item while believes it’s just casual sex.  When the top seller at his company dies an embarrassing death, Tim’s boss Bill Krogstad (Stephen Root) sends him as the company representative to a convention in Cedar Rapids.  His job there is to continue the company’s tradition of winning a prestigious award there.  This is all very exciting to the fish out of water that is Tim, and when he meets his roommates it’s even more surprising for him.  Ronald (Isiah Whitlock Jr.) is the first black man Tim has seen in person, and Dean (John C. Reilly) is the exact opposite of Tim.  Dean takes Tim under his wing and the three of them, joined with the alluring Joan (Anne Heche) form a tight knit group at the convention.  It’s a lot of fun for Tim, but it incites the ire of the Orin (Kurtwood Smith), the President of the convention and the man who decides who wins the award.  As his boss puts more and more pressure on him to win, Tim finds himself at the breaking point.

The acting isn’t going to win any awards, but the entire cast does their job well.  Ed Helms is doing his straight man routine again, but this time it fits the narrative more than just filling a hole.  His character isn’t an idiot, just very sheltered, and Helms sells it just right.

His chemistry with the other actors is quite good as well.  The most memorable role belongs to Reilly, who is loud, boorish, and the funniest thing in the film.  His Dean is the sloppy party animal to Tim’s button down square.  When Reilly isn’t on screen, the movie suffers a bit.  As for Whitlock and Heche, they are mildly wasted, though Heche does a bit more than usual with the potential romantic interest role she’s given.  Root, Smith, and Weaver more or less have cameos, but they do what they need to.  There are also small parts for Alia Shawkat, Rob Corddry, and Mike O’Malley, but they barely register.

Arteta directs the flick in a no-nonsense way.  He’s never been incredibly flashy, but he does keep things moving.  The script by Phil Johnston is good (it made a recent Black List), but not nearly as memorable as great comedy should be.  It’s never quite boring, but Johnston loses track of the already slight narrative a few times more than he should have.  These are small complaints, but they ultimately keep the movie from being anything more than a small success.

Overall, Cedar Rapids is a charming comedy than needs that charm in order to work.  Without it, it would be a bland comedy that’s never quite sure if it wants to be dirty or not.  I don’t think it’s incredibly successful, but it does succeed more than it fails, and when a comedy does that it gets a recommendation from me.  As long as you don’t expect to fall out of your chair laughing, this should be a satisfying flick to watch.

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When he’s not obsessing over new Oscar predictions on a weekly basis, Joey is seeing between 300 and 350 movies a year. He views the best in order to properly analyze the awards race/season each year, but he also watches the worst for reasons he mostly sums up as "so you all don't have to". In his spare time, you can usually find him complaining about the Jets or the Mets. Still, he lives and dies by film. Joey's a voting member of Indiewire's Criticwire Network as well as the Internet Film Critics Association.