Hoy, hoy there gang, as you can tell (I hope), I am back in action. Thankfully, I have a real mixed bag of films to talk about in the immediate time-space of my return to the blogosphere. Also, very happy that I managed to return a month-and-a-half ahead of my previous year's timetable, so this year I will undoubtedly get more reviews in than I did last year. Plus, I have found a number of websites (free, anti-piracy ones at that), including www.topdocumentaryfilms.com which gave me the pleasures of Collapse and Restrepo last year.
Anyway, as ever, I'm off topic. Topic of course being the film Cedar Rapids. I knew nothing about this going into it, as it was a press screening I attended with DK of DanlandMovies (no longer the mystery critic, check his stuff out), and was delighted to be informed that Ed Helms of The Hangover, a film he loved but one I was in the minority of disliking, was the film's lead, so my hopes weren't exactly high. Saying that, it was in the 2009 Blacklist as one of the most popular un-produced screenplays. In this film, Ed Helms plays a naive insurance agent by the name of Tim Lippe, who following the unfortunate death of a co-worker, attends a regional conference representing his firm in the eponymous Cedar Rapids.
To start with the good about the film, I'll deal with some of the 'gags.' Now, the tone of the film is all over the place, more of which I'll get to later, but there are standout moments where the film works. Ed Helms' Lippe is naive, and finds out that the big bad world is not as nice as he might imagine it. This results in a number of good laughs. For starters, he is no longer in the bosom of a borderline incestuous sexual relationship between he and his former teacher Marcy Vanderhei, played by Sigourney Weaver. The black comedy, when it emerges, is great. Individual scenes, for example Tim getting high on crack at a suspicious looking house party with suspicious looking people prove humorous. Also, Helms, who got slacked with a two-dimensional part in The Hangover, does his best with his role. On another note, it is funny in itself to see and have Kurtwood Smith, who I remember as Clarence Boddicker from Robocop, wear wooly sweaters. He's also pretty good in this. Finally, Miguel Arteta manages to keep the film under some degree of control.
Despite these good things about the film, particularly the black comedy, it has some severe problems. For starters, as a script that was revered on the 2009 Blacklist alongside Aaron Sorkin's The Social Network, it is not really that good. The black comedy, while well written, comes across as filler for the rest of the film. Tonally, it alternates too freely between black, whimsical, smut, and dramedy humour, and altogether, doesn't fit well, making a potential standout movie slot itself nicely in the crowd of the year's poor comedies. Also, the characters are pretty poorly written, even if those such as Helms, Weaver and Smith do their best to redeem themselves. John C. Reilly just plays a role that doesn't serve to stretch him any more than the roles he has had written for him in recent years. Finally, bad words must be said about Christophe Beck's score. I'm not going to gripe him on The Hangover, because I don't remember his score for that film. However, his score for this film is typical of those kind of intrusive comedy scores that are all bouncy-bouncy, ha-ha ha-ha. I think the first sigh (I'm now rating in sighs!) was at thirty seconds in, with Ed Helms narrating, an opening a bit too much like American Beauty for it's own good. Also, seeing as how Alexander Payne produced it, there seems to be a link between this score and About Schmidt's, although that is a much better score. It ensures that the film not only sounds like, but feels like too many other films. There were times I just wanted the film's score to shut up and it makes Cyrus look like a great film!
Cedar Rapids does undeniably have some gags. The black humour, though punctuating moments of out-and-out boredom, is very funny and saves it from true jet-lag. Also, the performances by Helms, Weaver, Smith and to a certain extent John C. Reilly deserve praise. Finally, Miguel Arteta tries his best to make the movie stand out. However, Cedar Rapids, with a bad script, featuring poor characterisation and tonal balance/identity and a dreadful score by Christophe Beck, is condemned to slot itself into obscurity. An instantly forgettable film, neither completely bad or particularly good.
The Thin White Dude's Prognosis - 4.1/10
The Thin White Dude's Self-Diagnosis - Dulled