Saturday, 26 November 2011

CEDAR RAPIDS DVD review

Starring Ed Helms from The Office and The Hangover in his first lead role, Cedar Rapids is out now on DVD and Blu-ray. Watch the trailer and read my review, next...


When his colleague dies in an auto-erotic asphyxiation accident that embarrasses his company, insurance salesman Tim Lippe (Ed Helms) is forced to attend the annual conference at Cedar Rapids to deliver a speech that will continue Brown Star Insurance's award winning streak. On arrival he meets Dean Ziegler (John C. Reilly), perhaps the worst role model a young, susceptible mind like Tim's could be exposed to. With the help of Dean and his new group of friends, Tim soon learns to let loose and enjoy himself, but when his antics attract the attention of the conference's chairman, he may have put his career in jeopardy.

I've been a fan of the American incarnation of The Office for a long time, considering it to be its own entity that shouldn't be constantly compared to the equally good but different UK original. One of the highlights of the American series is Ed Helm's character of Andy Bernard (aka The Nard-dog), a character without any UK equivalent that joined in the third series. What was supposed to be a limited run from the sometime Daily Show correspondent Ed Helms turned into a featured player role that has seen him become a favourite among fans of the series. Sweet, optimistic but filled with rage and neuroses, Andy Bernard epitomises all the best parts of the American series.

Why the need to go into such detail of Ed Helms' role on The Office? Well, it's important I give you at least a brief introduction to that character because he's basically playing the same one in Cedar Rapids. Tim Lippe is a perfectly nice gentleman, pursuing a romance with his old school teacher (played by Sigourney Weaver) and generally being open minded about life. In his career and his love life he's caught in arrested development, and needs something like the Cedar Rapids conference to prove to himself he's a worthwhile human being. Helms is very good at playing the sweet everyman in over his head, a schtick he's perfected via his roles in The Office and The Hangover, but Tim still remains far from a well rounded character. The film may be about Tim's coming of age in his professional life, but there's something undeniably creepy about his older lover (Weaver) talking to him like he's still a 12 year old boy to calm him down.

Backing Helms up is John C. Reilly, doing the familiar boorish, obnoxious man-child routine that he does so well. Reilly's been doing this for so long now it's almost inconceivable that he was known as a dramatic actor before Will Ferrell gave him his career rebirth, but perhaps the act is wearing a little thin now. Cedar Rapids also has a surprisingly sweet turn from Anne Heche, destroying the image I had of her as a heartless ice queen. Add to her The Wire's Isiah Whitlock Jr and Arrested Development's Alia Shawkat, and there's an interestingly diverse comic team at play here.

Unfortunately where Cedar Rapids fails is in delivering any memorable laughs. Director Miguel Arteta's previous film was the joyously anarchistic Youth In Revolt, a film that mined its rebellious coming of age story for all its comic worth. Sadly, here he's not been as successful. Although not completely devoid of humour, it tries too hard to balance proceedings with a sweet natured surrogate family theme that never really convinces. In fact, there's a strange but overwhelming feeling of uncomfortableness running through the film that distracts from the comic situations. If you've seen any of Arteta's previous work with Mike White (Chuck and Buck, The Good Girl), you'll know what tone to expect.

As potential for comedy goes, an ode to the insurance salesman is certainly an odd road to follow. Helms may end up being The Office's one true film star, but he'll need stronger vehicles than this if he's to succeed. An enjoyable experience whilst watching but not one that's likely to stay with you, Cedar Rapids is far from a classic but perhaps worth renting on DVD.

Verdict

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