Friday, February 10, 2012

Cedar Rapids (2011)

     I avoided seeing Cedar Rapids (2011) in the theater for fear that it would come off like a Will Ferrell film – that is to say, overly loud and decidedly unsubtle in its humor.  While it is largely the latter, the only offender in terms of tone is John C. Reilly, who plays his character (Dean Ziegler), too brashly to fit in with the other staid – and seemingly real – characters.  There is a problem with how disconnected the characters seem from the real world, which is to say the modern world, but that is played for charm rather than insult.  Indeed, had Cedar Rapids not taken an odd detour to the dark side of rural America, the entire film would have felt like an homage to the character of American goodness of character as contrasted with corporate (small as they are) evils.
     Ed Helms plays Tim Lippe, and he does a good job even when he is given questionable material.  Helms is really too old for the role – he looks every bit of his 37 years – but he manages a kind and believable aw shucks persona that allows the other actors room to work.  Reilly is much less giving, acting at the others; it feels like he was getting direction for a different film.  Anne Heche is fantastic and believable as a mother of two who uses the annual ASMI convention as an escape from the limitations of her life – marriage, children, responsibility.  Isiah Whitlock, Jr. is...well, I think he is great in almost everything he has done. 
     The plot involves a few too many crude elements.  This is not to say that I am not of fan of crude humor, but it feels like it was wedged in for the sake of satisfying people who know of Helms only from The Hangover (2009).  This could have been a gem of a subtle, adult comedy; the seeds are there and there was clearly an effort to make it happen.  However, there were too many distractions from the heartwarming material for cheap laughs, or attempts at cheap laughs.
     I liked the cast.  I likes most of the set up.  I just feel that somebody – at some point – felt pressure to go for the lowest common denominator in order to ensure a box office success.  Cedar Rapids should have been a comedy that avoided the pitfalls that have made the last decade's offerings largely unfunny.  It isn't cold and heartless – it is much better than that – but it just could not elevate itself to excellence.  If you haven't seen it, I would recommend giving it a chance.  Just realize that it could have been much better, or much cruder; it just should have chosen a direction and gone all in.

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