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Cedar Rapids

Cedar Rapids Directed by: Miguel Arteta Cast: Ed Helms, Anne Heche, John C. Reilly Running Time: 1 hr 27 mins Rating: R Release Date: February 11, 2011 (Chicago)

PLOT: An insurance salesman (Helms) from a small town in Wisconsin undergoes a life-changing culture shock when he is sent to a convention in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

WHO'S IT FOR?: Those who enjoy the works of suburban-minded directors like Mike Judge, but are satisfied with laughing a little less than they did with Extract. While it may feature a wide-eyed performance from Helms, this raucous comedy is more mature than it may look, so it's not immediately for the Hangover crowd.

EXPECTATIONS: February release dates are not the most positive thing, but Arteta defied this last year with his underrated comedy Youth In Revolt. Helms is a funny everyman to watch, regardless of the situations he seems to put himself into.



Ed Helms as Tim Lippe: Visitng a city in Iowa is a life-changing ordeal for Tim Lippe. That alone should be enough to describe his character. With a squeaky clean vocabulary and dreadfully vanilla haircut, Lippe is a fun guest into the wild world of insurance conventions, and at the same time a fun spin on the image of a typical conservative and religious Midwesterner. Helms is quite amusing in this clean cut role, especially as he learns to embrace a shocking wild side that involves drugs, prostitutes, and singing at karaoke. Score: 6

John C. Reilly as Dean Ziegler: This notorious anarchist of the group, "Dean Z." has a great introduction that properly fits his brash character. The rest of this character slowly downgrades into accessible and simple common relief, even though he has a curious history that remains unexplored (we hear him call his ex-wife “an a**hole.”) Not everything that he says is funny, but Reilly does have some jolting one-liners to keep the shenanigans of Cedar Rapids odd yet interesting. Score: 4

Anne Heche as Joan Ostrowski-Fox: A bit like a more comedic version of Vera Famiga’s character in Up in the Air, Joan is the type of temptress who seems to have the most fun when she’s on the job (but not actually being productive). Heche is likable and spunky in this role, and gives Tim Lippe and subsequently the movie a bit of amusing zest. Score: 4

TALKING: The dialogue can be pretty hit or miss as it explores two different levels of taste. One of them is squeaky clean, ("My FOOT!", as said defiantly by Helms), while the other level is quite crude, as delivered by the bombastic Dean Z. Isiah Whitlock Jr. from HBO's "The Wire" partakes in two direct verbal references to the show, but does not repeat his famous, "sh********tttt" line, as some may expect (even though he did it for Spike Lee in 25th Hour.) Score: 5

SIGHTS: A big number of familiar funny people make brief appearances in the film, including Thomas Lennon, Rob Corddry, Alia Shawkat, Mike Birbiglia, and Stephen Root. The amount of cameos brings a small, if not inconsistent number of chuckles to the film's overall amount of laughs. For those thinking that Cedar Rapids was shot in its actual Iowa location, it's not. It was apparently filmed in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Score: 5

SOUNDS: Peppy pianos and xylophones, a la the more sprightly compositions of someone like George Winston, give the movie a more formal energy throughout. The biggest bolt of enthusiasm from Cedar Rapids comes from its usage of the oft-forgotten, always awesome 80's tune by Matthew Wilder, “Never Gonna Break My Stride.” Score: 6


BEST SCENE: Thomas Lennon's brief appearance in his commercial for the insurance company is the funniest part of the film. He has the perfect voice and costuming for it.

ENDING: For everything that went down, Tim gets TWO bags of peanuts on the flight home. It's all very sunnyside up.

QUESTIONS: You can read my interview with Ed Helms here.

REWATCHABILITY: The humor of the movie is more about the surprise than anything else. Thus, with its jokes expected, it Cedar Rapids probably wouldn't be able to hold up for a second or even third viewing.


Cedar Rapids is an occasionally funny movie about flipping conservative folk from the Midwest over in hopes of exposing their loony side. With most of its humor focused on upsetting the notion of “normalcy” that people like Tim Lippe may claim to have, the film’s jokes are mostly focused on disorienting the audience with its colorful craziness. Thus, it becomes a simple story with wild events, as it puts Lippe into moments that involve adultery, heroin, prostitutes, and more. Helms' co-stars, Heche and Reilly, can be an amusing bunch, but our understanding of these interesting regional creatures remains stubbornly stunted. Especially Ronnie, (played by Isiah Whitlock Jr.,) whose own success story is undermined so that he can take part in the film’s “Wire” jokes.


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