Tim Lippe has no idea what he's in for when he's sent to Cedar Rapids, Iowa to represent his company at an annual insurance convention, where he soon finds himself under the "guidance" of three convention veterans.
Tim Lippe (Helms) was the guy people always thought would go places but then he just ... didn't. He's been living in über-sleepy Brown Valley, Wisconsin his whole life, still "pre-engaged" to his 7th grade teacher Macy Vanderhei (Weaver), while selling insurance to protect other people's dreams. But now, Tim's stalled life is about to get a kick-start because, for the first time in his 34 years, he's headed to a "major" metropolis - Cedar Rapids, Iowa - where he must try to save his company at a do-or-die insurance convention that, for him, will be entirely unconventional. From the minute he checks into his hotel with his ancient American Tourister and cummerbund money belt, it's clear Tim has no idea how the modern world really works. He is soon smitten with seductive Nebraskan insurance agent Joan Ostrowski-Fox (Heche) and awed by his experienced roommates, the straight-shooting Ronald Wilkes (Whitlock Jr.) and the suspicious Dean Zeigler (Reilly). Disheartened when he comes ...Written by
Fox Searchlight Pictures
This film got reasonable reviews so I decided to make the effort to check it out, not least of which because of the cast that features quite a few names and faces that I know from either being instantly recognizable (Weaver, Reilly, Heche) or from their work on other projects that I like a great deal (The Office, Arrested Development, The Wire etc). The plot here is fairly straightforward, a small-town insurance salesman has to replace a colleague at a regional conference in Cedar Rapids and win the prestigious award that his company has won many years running. It is a simple idea and much of the comedy will come from the sweetly naïve Tim having his eyes opened to a wider world while also trying to keep his principles in place. Like I say, a basic plot and it very much depends on what the script does within that frame.
There are plenty of ideas here and plenty of set-pieces but the problem is that the film doesn't really deliver any of them really well. On one hand we have aspects of it that are the rather awkward naïve comedy that Helms does with his character in The Office. This manifests itself in his relationship with an older woman (she is having fun, he is deeply in love) or his inability to know a prostitute when he sees one. On the other hand we have the more exaggerated adventures he gets drawn into, these involving sex, drink and drugs. Neither of these two aspects is particularly strong either individually or together and, at best, they produce amusing moments and the occasionally laugh but nothing particularly engaging nor particularly funny. Instead what we get is plenty going on in terms of noise and activity and perhaps this is enough to distract and, for me, mostly it was. The actual plot is quite obvious and heads to a sort of solid ending but I was quite surprised by how lackluster much of it was.
The cast are perhaps part of me being disappointed in the outcome but all of them are capable of more. I liked Helms and he played the lead role well, just the material didn't play to his strengths as well as it suggested – it is like it put him between the awkwardness of The Office and the crude slapstick of The Hangover and he didn't sit comfortably between them. Reilly appears to offer the more boisterous side of things but again the film doesn't follow through on what he brings. Heche is a nice touch in casting and works well but Whitlock is wasted; his only contribution of note is to make a great little in-joke where he does an impression of The Wire's Omar (a TV show he was in) – it is funny but it is ruined within seconds since the film feels the need to explain the reference to the viewer. Various other faces do solid work without ever having too much to do, so while some are good, the overall feel is that a great cast don't have much to do. This feeling covers Smith, Shawat Corddry, Root and others.
In the end Cedar Rapids is an OK film that never gets close to delivering on anything it puts on the table. It has an odd mix of styles but it doesn't do any of them really well, which leaves a film loaded with recognizable faces and names, none of whom really excel because the script doesn't either. A solid so-so but no more than that.
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