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Cedar Rapids

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



Film is ever changing. There’s no doubt about that. If it’s not Avatar leading the 3D movement, it’s something else shaping how we make and view movies. Cyrus is the latest example of what some would call a “mumblecore” film, a relatively new genre that employs a low budget, no name actors and improvised scripts. Other examples include Baghead and last year’s overrated Humpday, both of which, coincidentally, the director of this film was involved in. Starring in the latter and directing the former, Mark Duplass has once again stepped behind the camera with his brother Jay Duplass and churned out another awkward, misguided, unfunny movie.

John C. Reilly plays John, a lonely, desperate man who has been divorced from his wife Jamie, played by Catherine Keener, for seven years. Despite this, they remain friends and she acts as his confidante. One night, she pressures him into heading out to a party with her where he meets a host of women, none of whom seem very interested. That is until he meets Molly, played by Marisa Tomei. He instantly falls for her, but soon finds out that she has a 21 year old son still living with her. His name is Cyrus, played by Jonah Hill, and although he acts courteous, John suspects Cyrus may not want him in their home.

The pairing of John C. Reilly and Marisa Tomei is the most unbelievable hookup since Katherine Heigl and Seth Rogen in Knocked Up, and I say that not only because their physical appearances are on two different plains, but because I can’t see any woman finding a shred of affection for Reilly’s character. They first bump into each other as he’s urinating in the bushes outside, stumbling over his words in a drunken stupor and instead of taking interest in her, he rushes inside when he hears his favorite song playing and makes an idiot of himself. Next thing you know, they’re in bed together post-sex. Nothing about the set-up came close to resembling any type of reality because if women were attracted to drunken men acting like morons, I’d have prospects lining up around the block.

So it’s a stretch. I suppose that’s ok. The bulk of the movie is spent with Cyrus and as long as that worked, it would be easy to look past the weak opening. But it doesn’t. The reason is that the titular character is handled so haphazardly you never truly get a feel for what he’s thinking. He clearly resents John for infiltrating his household and threatening to tear his mother away from him and he uses humiliation tactics to prove his point, but there’s an odd sexual tension bubbling underneath. Is he upset because he’s losing his mother or because he can’t, as he puts it, love her the way John can?

It’s worrisome to say the least, but his quirks don’t end there. At times, Cyrus is voyeuristic and watches John and his mother as they walk through the door and make their way to the couch about to partake in some sexual activity. At others, he seems to have homicidal tendencies, appearing behind John at night with a knife and a cold blank stare. There’s something unsettling about Cyrus, deliberate or not, that keeps this movie from leaving the ground.

But then out of nowhere it reverses tones and concludes on an upbeat, happy-go-lucky sequence where the previous tension and hatred dissolves faster than an antacid in water, which didn't fit the sometimes dark and uncomfortable hour and 20 minutes preceding it.

Cyrus simply isn’t very good narratively, but it fails from a technical standpoint as well. It's shot like an amateur home video, full of camera zooms and intentional poor framing, which worked against its intended purpose. Instead of drawing me in through what the directors hoped was a more realistic documentary-esque feel, it became a distraction and pushed me away.

That those are only the beginning of my criticisms shows how hackneyed this poor excuse for a film is. Although categorized by some as “mumblecore,” I would argue it contradicts too many of that genre’s defining features to be considered such. But you can call it what you want. Cyrus is a mess either way.

Cyrus receives 1.5/5

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