This may seem paradoxical to you (it certainly does to me), but it seems like some comedies aren’t actually trying to be funny. No, they’re not lazy. No, they’re not even bad. They just aren’t going out of their way to make you laugh. It’s like they subscribe to the Shakespearean definition of comedy, in that all it takes to qualify is for all the moral characters to end up okay at the end. They’re not a comedies, they’re just “nice.” Cedar Rapids is a “nice” movie starring such funny individuals as Ed Helms, John C. Reilly and Stephen Root, but I could count all the times it actually made me laugh on one mutilated hand. And yet I don’t dislike the film. It’s just a genial little trifle, like that one guy at the office who acts like they’ve never tasted cynicism. You can’t respect them for their naïveté, but you also can’t deny that they’re doing something right.
Tim Lippe is just such a person. Played by The Hangover’s Ed Helms with a ‘Golly Gee Whiz’ approach which waffles between genuine and vaguely satirical, he’s an insurance salesman in a small town who gets sent on a business trip to Cedar Rapids, where he must dazzle the bigwigs at a convention in order to preserve his company’s good name. There was a scandal, you see, and now the pressure’s on Tim to save the day before everyone loses their jobs. But Tim’s never even left his home state before. This trip to Iowa – Wow, Iowa! – turns out to be Tim’s first real eye-opening experience to the world of adult situations, prostitutes, drug use, alcohol and corruption.
Somehow that last sentence made Cedar Rapids sound a little intense. It’s not. There isn’t an intense bone in its metaphorical body. Cedar Rapids somehow manages to drift lazily, but with purpose. The plot moves forward, taking Tim from one new experience to the other, but it’s no hurry whatsoever and lets an excellent cast do all the heavy lifting. It’s easy to understand that temptation with fine actors like Helms, Reilly (playing the blowhardiest insurance salesman ever) and Anne “Hey, Remember Anne Heche?” Heche present. The Wire’s Isaiah Whitlock, Jr. also gives a charming performance as an enthusiast of the HBO series The Wire, which somehow transforms from a distracting wink at the audience into a full-blown plot point. That’s the weirdest that Cedar Rapids ever gets. It’s a very mild movie, sweet and filled with smiles but also completely negligible. It’s about growing up, but has nothing to say about the process other than that it’s hard, and made easier by the presence of friends. A charming sentiment, not much more.
Cedar Rapids flows onto Blu-Ray with a respectable presentation. Director Miguel Arteta (Chuck & Buck, Youth In Revolt) has never been what you’d call a distinctive visual stylist, but his understated storytelling suits Cedar Rapids without ever producing a Blu-Ray experience that calls attention to itself. The surround sound surrounds, and is somewhat sound, and the high definition picture is indeed a picture, and the definition seems high. But you won’t be impressed. An assortment of mostly fluffy special features, including short BTS films, forgettable deleted scenes and a gag reel which consists primarily of “I laughed when I wasn’t supposed to” moments round out the Blu-Ray. They’re fine if you like the film and not worth watching if you’re uninspired, which I imagine you probably will be.
I actually feel a little guilty for this review. I suppose I could talk about the fine line Cedar Rapids walks between loving its protagonist and mocking him, or the rather limp plotline, but it all feels so moot. I haven’t seen a movie as ‘safe’ as Cedar Rapids since last year’s Secretariat. It has modest, wholesome ambitions and meets them head on, but it never does anything else. It’s not impressive, it’s not terribly funny, but in the end I guess it really is ‘nice.’
Crave Online Rating (Film): 6.5/10
Crave Online Rating (Blu-Ray): 7/10