Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Love: Cedar Rapids

Cedar Rapids is comedic comfort food, especially for anyone that’s ever been to a trade conference where booze and sex are often the focus over insurance, engineering, or whatever it was you were sent there to network about. A mix of quirky sweetness and crude hilarity, Rapids is both a natural Ed Helms vehicle and a great diversion.
Insurance salesman Tim Lippe is the typical Helms’ archetype; he’s pre-engaged (at least in his mind) to his older, former high school science teacher (Sigourney Weaver), gets excited about renting a red Chevy Cobalt, and orders a root beer proudly at a bar. Each year his Wisconsin Insurance Company has won the coveted “Two Diamond” award at anannual Insurance conference in Cedar Rapids due to the beguiling charm of Roger (Thomas Lennon), their star agent. When he's killed in an accidental act of asphyxiation ala David Carradine, it’s up to Tim to continue the winning legacy, even after getting caught up with a group of debauched conference rebels including Anne Heche, Isiah Whitlock Jr., and John C. Reilly.
While the jokes might not be all that new and skim from most of the stuff that Helms and Reilly have already been in, it’s Helms that makes Rapids feel like a better film than it is. He has an innocent charisma that makes you root for him in any project, despite his stupidity or banality. It also makes the hijinks that happen to him all the funnier, particularly this time around when he unknowingly goes on a crack bender and falls in love with a prostitute he’d previously been giving butterscotch candy to.
John C. Reilly is also more subdued than normal here, allowing his off color, over the top performance to shine by backing off before it overwhelms the film. Helms, Heche, Reilly, and Whitlock as an ensemble are an oddly perfect fit and mirror the real life conference experience, where you find yourself marooned and sometimes liberated with a group of strangers you wouldn’t normally spend time with and won’t see again. Awash in dark paneling, outdated wallpaper, and Cosby sweaters, everything from the sets to the costumes reinforce the familiar reality of the film, even when the plot takes utterly silly turns.

While it’s no Hangover, by the end you feel like you’ve gone on a rag tag adventure with the group of friends in high school, a trip that at the time felt a lot more audacious than it actually was.

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