- Rated R
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All photos © Fox Searchlight
Reviewed by Jason Zingale
d Helms isn’t a very showy comedian, but when given the right material (like the role of the cuckold dentist in “The Hangover”), there are few actors who do the prudish nice guy shtick better than him. Playing the straight man doesn’t always have its benefits, however, as is the case with “Cedar Rapids,” which finds the former “Daily Show” correspondent in his first leading role, but with little to show for it. At the very least, it’s not going to make Helms an overnight star like “The 40-Year-Old Virgin” did for his fellow “Office” co-star Steve Carell, but while “Cedar Rapids” is never as funny as you might expect, there are just enough laughs scattered throughout its brisk runtime that it's not a complete letdown.
Helms stars as Tim Lippe, a naïve salesman for a family-owned insurance agency in the small town of Brown Valley, Wisconsin. Tim takes pride in the fact that all of his clients trust him and boasts that he’s “practically pre-engaged” to his former school teacher (Sigourney Weaver), despite the fact they’re not really dating. But when the agency’s golden boy dies in a freak accident and Tim is chosen to replace him at the ASMI insurance conference in Cedar Rapids, Iowa with the purpose of winning the coveted Two Diamonds award, he gets in way over his head when he befriends a trio of fellow insurance agents and succumbs to the many distractions the city has to offer.
“Cedar Rapids” is a strange little movie – a borderline dark comedy one minute, and a raucous frat comedy the next. As with any fish out of water story, the protagonist is bound to mature as he learns to adapt to his new surroundings, but the path that Tim takes doesn’t feel natural at all. Many of the wacky high jinks that ensue during his trip – including one particular subplot where he accompanies a young prostitute (Alia Shawkat) to a party and gets high on crack – seem to have been included more out of a need for laughs than character development. They feel really out of place, and one has to wonder if director Miguel Arteta was under any kind of pressure from the studio to insert a few off-the-wall moments to help balance out the film's mild-mannered lead.
Despite the film's inconsistent tone, there’s a really interesting dynamic between the four main characters that keeps things entertaining throughout. Helms doesn’t earn too many laughs as the buttoned-down dweeb, but it’s a solid performance that selflessly thrusts his co-stars into the spotlight. Anne Heche gives the film some much-needed emotional weight as the woman who uses the annual trip as an excuse to escape family life, and Isiah Whitlock Jr. has some great one-liners as the easygoing nice guy with a soft spot for HBO’s “The Wire” (a clever in-joke considering Whitlock Jr. himself was an actor on the show). But it’s John C. Reilly’s loud and obnoxious Dean Ziegler that steals the show. A wrecking ball of comic vulgarity, Ziegler may be a bit of a wild card, but he's also the film's savior. Reilly hasn't been this laugh out loud funny since "Step Brothers," and if nothing else, "Cedar Rapids" is well worth seeing for him alone.
The Super Awesome Edition Blu-ray Review:
“Cedar Rapids” arrives on Blu-ray with a healthy supply of special features, but unfortunately, there’s nothing here that really demands your attention. The deleted scenes are forgettable, the gag reel is surprisingly short on laughs, and the collection of cast interviews (“Convention Connection”) only leaves you wishing they’d recorded an audio commentary for the film instead. Rounding out the two-disc set are a couple of featurettes on filming the party and wedding sequences, a pair of “Fox Movie Channel Presents” specials on director Miguel Arteta and writer Phil Johnston, and a digital copy.