Tim Lippe, played by Ed Helms, is a man out of his comfort zone. How do we know this? Aside from the frequent reminders, he has just imploded and broken down in tears at him being a philanderer. This may seem like a plot point used in a variety film, but it’s significant in Cedar Rapids as it’s the point where it just noticeably runs out of steam and ideas. A shame, as it had the potential to be a good little comedy, yet instead it is destined to be forgotten all too quickly.
The plot sees insurance salesman Lippe shipped out to the Cedar Rapids for a convention and awards ceremony of the Two Diamonds, the Oscars of the insurance world. Bookish, awkward and the antithesis of streetwise, Lippe finds himself rooming with John C.Reilly’s brash and boisterous Dean Ziegler and the sophisticated Ronald Wilkes (Isiah Whitlock Jr), whilst falling in with Anne Heche’s Joan in more ways than one. The inevitable mixture of fish out of water laughs and moral backbone follow, yet along the way we encounter a few great lines and nice setpieces, with a scavenger hunt being a particular highlight.
Yet the main issue with Cedar Rapids remains with its characters. Displaying an inverse correlation between likeability and the humour of the film, in the initial stages of the film, it’s hard to warm to anyone, particularly Reilly. It’s in this, in which Reilly displays as little subtlety as possible and is impressively vulgar, where the main body of laughs are found (aside from the self-referential nature of the Wire’s Whitlock) which seem hard to come across as the film reaches its tacked on and oh-so-rushed conclusion. Heche’s character is plain annoying, seeming both implausibly needy and moral whereas Helms may well be destined to play nerds in the big wide world. It’s hard to say whether this is a good thing or not, as Helms isn’t a particularly engrossing or noteworthy screen presence. At least Adam Sandler makes himself impossible to ignore, for better or for worse.
The pacing of the film further leads a little to be desired, as despite the films short running length, a large period of time passes by in which the jokes seem to be mislaid. This is particularly noticeable as the film starts running, with the first real joke occurring a few minutes in, a poor decision. Sigourney Weaver as the ‘pre-fiance’ of Tim Lippe is woefully underused as well, appearing for the same amount of minutes as fingers on your hand and having a rather irrelevant role other than to put on the poster ‘Sigourney Weaver’.
For all its faults though, Cedar Rapids is a rather inoffensive (aside from Reilly’s coarseness) but mildly amusing effort. With a much, much stronger ending, a longer running time and a willingness to take a few risks and branch out from the norm, this could’ve been one of the sleeper hits of the year. As it stands, its poised to remain as Sundance’s darling, but there will be a lot worse out this year. At least it’s not Your Highness.