Insurance salesman Tim Lippe is a shade of green seen only on those that spend thirty years in Wisconsin Dells without venturing elsewhere. Unexpectedly selected to represent his company at an insurance convention, the hometown boy boards a jet to Cedar Rapids, Iowa, for an eye-opening weekend of wheeling, dealing, boozing and schmoozing with the insurance industry's heavy hitters. Cedar Rapids holds a surprising 85-percent-fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes; a number undoubtedly inflated by the film's mid-February release date. While Ed Helms is an endearing lead, Cedar Rapids bombards Lippe with too many life lessons, leaving its audience starved for laughs and underwhelmed.
Lippe (Helms) gets the conference gig after his superior dies in an autoerotic asphyxiation accident. Upon landing in Cedar Rapids, Lippe quickly mistakes a prostitute working the convention (Alia Shawkat) for a friendly traveler, and goes wide-eyed at the sight of his budget-hotel mini suite. Fellow agents Ronald Wilkes (Isiah Whitlock Jr.), Dean Ziegler (John C. Reilly) and Joan Ostrowski-Fox (Anne Heche) quickly dispel any notions that the convention is a serious business opportunity. These three are veterans, hip to the game and ready to throw down.
There's nothing especially odious about Cedar Rapids, which paints its Midwestern setting without pretense. The cast seems to have fun trying on the shoes of middle-class employees, and each salesman treats the convention like the extended booze-fest it is. Director Miguel Arteta (Youth in Revolt) keeps the proceedings moving, and a subplot about buying accolades is as serious as the film gets. There's also the pleasant theme of universal acceptance sprinkled throughout the film, which comes to a head when Lippe and company crash a lesbian wedding.
On the other hand, there's not much memorable in Cedar Rapids. Lippe's wide-eyed amazement grows tiresome, and the filmmakers never settle on his level of innocence. He may be sleeping with a divorcee who taught him in elementary school (Sigourney Weaver), but Lippe is utterly oblivious when Ostrowski-Fox moves in for the kill. Cedar Rapids hopes details like Lippe's drink of choice - cream sherry - will invoke big laughs, but these bits come off as forced rather than amusing. The cast uplifts the material somewhat: Reilly is funny as always, but he plays Ziegler like the older brother of Talladega Nights' Cal Naughton Jr. It's nice to see Heche in another comedic role, and her character's struggle to separate home life and work life brings some much-needed gravity to the film. And Whitlock Jr. provides the film's biggest laugh when he explains that he does a good impression of Omar from HBO's The Wire.
I feel like Scrooge ragging on Cedar Rapids, but there's little about the film to separate it from the pack of generic comedies. The lead character's wonderment shtick is somewhat overdone, and the film's humor could be sharper. You may crack a few smiles, but I doubt you will be rolling on the floor laughing during Cedar Rapids.
PICTURE AND SOUND:
Per their policy, Fox's screening disc does not include the final transfer or soundtrack, so I cannot comment on these areas of the disc. If a retail copy becomes available to me, I will update my review accordingly.
Fox includes a handful of extras for Cedar Rapids. Alongside the requisite deleted scenes (7:50) and gag reel (4:19) are some featurettes: Mike O'Malley - Urban Clogger (2:56) spotlights the actor's toe-tapping talents. Tweaking in the USA (6:14) explores the actors' on-screen journey into hard drugs, and Wedding Belles - Crashing a Lesbian Wedding (4:17) shows how the filmmakers shot one of the film's more memorable sequences. The funniest extra is the Top Notch Commercial (1:11), a faux advertisement for Lippe's insurance agency. A theatrical trailer also is included.
Despite its near-universal critical acclaim, I found Cedar Rapids to be a slight comedy that could have used more laughs. Ed Helms, Anne Heche and John C. Reilly are enjoyable to watch as a motley crew of insurance agents brought together during an industry convention, but the film's lead character borders on socially inept. Fox's DVD includes some funny extras, but the film has little replay value. Rent It.