Every year there are terrific screenplays that go unproduced. While garbage like Season of the Witch invades theaters, true talent gets overlooked. In an attempt to rectify this situation, a list was created, dubbed the Black List, that contains a record of the most popular overlooked screenplays. The newest Ed Helms indie comedy, Cedar Rapids, was on that list. Well, something must have gone wrong from script to screen because “average” is the best compliment it can be given. If this is one of the shining examples of original screenplays coming out of Hollywood, we’re in for a bumpy few years.
Ed Helms plays Tim Lippe, an insurance salesman for BrownStar Insurance. His company has been the recipient of the Two Diamond Award, a prestigious award showing clout within the insurance industry, for many years running. They are expected to win this year as well, but when the star of the company, the man who had won the previous years and was going to do so again, accidentally kills himself from autoerotic asphyxiation, the sure-to-win presentation he was going to give at the local insurance convention is passed off to Tim. But what seems like a simple task becomes a lot more difficult when he meets Dean Ziegler (John C. Reilly), a loud, foul mouthed party animal, and Joan (Anne Heche), a sexy salesman who begins to put the moves on Tim.
Cedar Rapids does nothing you wouldn’t expect it to do. It’s simple, short (clocking in at under 90 minutes) and missing a personality. It attempts to have some heart, but ultimately fails. And its two biggest stars step into roles they’ve been running through for years now. Ed Helms basically plays the same clueless simpleton he’s been playing as Andy in The Office since 2006 and Reilly is the crazy eccentric who swears like a sailor like his character in, well, pretty much every movie he’s ever been in. The good news is that the two are so good at what they do that, though exhausting, they are fun to watch and keep this movie flowing even when it looks like it’s going to tumble off the edge.
Their years of practice in similar roles pays off, but that doesn’t always save the clumsy hit-or-miss humor. Indie comedies, for some reason, tend to be drawn toward unconventional humor, perhaps in an attempt to stand out from the pack. Cedar Rapids, though downplayed in comparison, is much the same. The jokes are quirky, weird and terribly inconsistent. It tries to capture that same type of awkward humor that television shows like Modern Family and the aforementioned The Office do so well, but instead of being funny, it sometimes comes off as simply uncomfortable.
Despite its short runtime, Cedar Rapids becomes an endurance test to sit through because it begins to recycle old jokes and clichés from numerous other films. How many times must we see a non-drug user use drugs before we realize that it just doesn’t work anymore? It isn’t funny. It’s overdone. Let’s move on.
But in the end, regardless of any quibbles I may have, the fact of the matter is that I laughed enough for a recommendation. You can pick apart comedies as much as you want, but if you’re laughing, even the most poorly constructed films become something worth seeing. Cedar Rapids is not a poorly constructed film per se, but it’s certainly nothing special either. It’s worth seeing once, but a year from now, you’ll forget it ever existed.
Cedar Rapids receives 3/5