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Ten Word or Less Review: 2011 movies finally throw out something worth while.

About half way though Cedar Rapids I found myself hoping that the film unfolding before me would live up to the uncommon promise it seemed to be making.  The usual plot points that prevade boys behaving bad movies were being evaded, the usual character arcs were slightly more refined and the general feeling that Rapids was investing itself in was a desire to be genial and true, but with the prerequisite dirty jokes to keep us laughing.  Much to my appreciation Cedar Rapids held the course and managed to be an affecting instance where lowbrow humor merges with effectively portrayed characters.  If The Hangover was too callous to care about anyone in it, I never cared if they found their friend, and Hot Tub Time Machine too slapdash to take serious, Cedar Rapids represents that same type of movie, but in it’s head an idea rattles around and in its chest a heart can be found.

Hangover graduate Ed Helms is Tim Lippe, pronounced lippy, a small town insurance agent who’s never taken a small town step outside his small town existence.  Everything about his demeanor and lifestyle scream wholesome rube.  The only kind of illicit behavior Tim indulges in is a weird one, a sexual affair with his one time middle school teacher (Sigourney Weaver), whom he foolishly wants to marry out of a misplaced sense of nobility.  I doubt Tim could guess in 100 years what MILF means.  After a pious co-worker accidentally croaks in a sex game, Tim is sent in his place to Cedar Rapids for the insurance convention where his tidy world quickly comes undone.  If the film had been set in Vegas Tim would’ve died when he got off the plane.  Tim is a character so without knowledge and sin that his rather humdrum hotel illicts awes, it has a pool and the doors open with cards, and rooming with an African-American guy gives him a brief shock.  He also has to room with the abrasive Dean, the awesome John C. Reilly, a foul mouthed boob who proves a stream of unrepressed vulgarity and id.  Making it a foursome is Joan, Ann Heche, a laid back married woman who takes a liking it Tim despite his repressed nature and hesitancy at having fun.

It would be really easy for Cedar Rapids to hold Tim out as the tried and true fish-out-of-water idiot, but things are held back and Tim comes across more inexperienced and frightened of the real life suddenly all around him.  No longer rubbing elbow with small town folk, Tim is an innocent who finds out how quickly the world can corrupt and because the film doesn’t overplay his foibles, he manages to achieve something like believability.  Making things even better is an overachieving supporting cast.  John C. Reilly walks off with the movie, something the wiley character actor is prone to do.  In 99 out of 100 movies Reilly’s character is the vile rake set in oppostion to our pious protagonist.  Here innocence and sin form a bond.  Dean is gross and immature, a raging 12 year old boy still endlessly amused by fart jokes in the pasty body of a guy heading towards middle age, but a villan he is not.  Much like Tim the screenplay works to turn Reilly’s character into someone we can appreciate instead of sneer at.  Ronald Whitlock dutifully plays the straightman to Rielly’s profane jokster.  And coming off the acting side lines to surprising affect is Anne Heche.  All but absent from notable movies for most of the past decade, Heche’s appearance is defined by a sense of humor laced with just a touch of world weariness.  These four performers tie themselves together and form great quartet of comedic timing.
Behind the camera is Miguel Arteta, a deft hand with good timing and ability to sell comedy without insulting the audience or sacrificing the integrity of his characters in the process.  Seeing Alexander Payne (Sideways) listed as a producer made a lot of sense as well.  Along with first time screenplay writer Phil Johnston, the creative team eventually steer the film into common ground.  While the film consistently flirts with gray areas and murky morals, the ending is all smiles.  Nothing downbeat was called for but it’s so up in nature that the once believable ground that Rapids was walking on fades away with the closing credits.  But it’s a small complaint in an otherwise steady sea of accomplishment.
The real complaint to lobby against Cedar Rapids was the complete and utter failure to sell the film to anyone.  It’s funny, foul mouthed and affecting in ways most other movies like this aren’t.  The audience for movies like this has been getting a steady diet lately, The Dilemma and Hall Pass come to mind, and it should be no surprise that the one film which bends the genre around some doesn’t catch on.  It has more in common with indy film darling Juno than it’s beefy, big brother, The Hangover. Cedar Rapids seems destined for appreciation in the long run while its louder contemporaries quickly fade from memory.


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