Saturday, March 19, 2011

Cedar Rapids

"Cedar Rapids" by Miguel Arteta claims to know what bullshit is, so it's kind of strange to me how it is unable to avoid being it itself. It has insight, but wrapped in a candy-colored, slapdash box, presented like the giver is reluctant about handing it to the receiver. I saw it with a Midwesterner, and felt a bit uncomfortable at the film's digs, but even so, it didn't hold up as a success under those circumstances. If it were a success, it probably would have. This is a film that aims somewhere between treacle and hardcore satire, and ends up just about shooting its own eye out. In this position, the slaps at Midwestern culture seem like half-hearted cheap shots, and the schmaltz (which deserves no mention alongside Frank Capra, the point of influence the critics have been using) doesn't even register. In its falling between sardonic and sentimental extremes, it, like "The Housemaid," doesn't ever manage to make a bond with its audience. Which is fine, I guess; the movie would think it was being too "gay."

We follow the exploits of Tim Lippe (Ed Helms, who admirably throws himself into the part), a dude with small ambitions, big-time prejudices, unconventional sexual partners, and an impassioned demeanor, cause that's just how Midwesterners do (so says this movie). He works at an insurance company, which has a track record of winning awards, and heads to Cedar Rapids after the suicide of his reputed fellow employee to preserve it. He wears the warnings and beliefs that have been ingrained in him by his boss (Stephen Root), told to stay with the good guys (like Isiah Whitlock, Jr.), keep off the trail of troublemakers (such as John C. Reilly, basically reprising his role of Dr. Steve Brule) and to keep his eyes on the prize. He soon is being flirtatious with Joan (Anne Heche), who uses Cedar Rapids as a place to get crazy away from her family. His relationship with her gives the movie its ideological heft (about how people aim for so little and are satisfied when they achieve it), but it proves even too revealing, as the film is guilty of the same crimes for which it calls its characters out.

Although the people around me when I saw it broke into literal hysterics, I don't think this is a particularly funny movie. Writer Phil Johnston, a relative amateur with only a couple of credits to his name on IMDb, makes all of his comic setups look choreographed and preconceived. He gives a couple people a couple of good lines, but that doesn't make up for the fact that he equates getting smashed and drugged up to being free (and doesn't try to critique that in the slightest). Because of missteps like this, someone really could make a parody of "Cedar Rapids." Though since it's as "derivative" and "mild" as Anthony Lane and J. Hoberman respectively called it, why would you? C

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