Tuesday, March 22, 2011

A trip to "Cedar Rapids"

I was genuinely excited when the midstate got its third and fourth first-run theaters with the Houston Lakes Stadium Cinemas 10 in Warner Robins and the Edge 14 replacing the former Regal Rivergate 14 here in Macon. After all, more theaters means more movies, right?

It really hasn't worked out that way too often yet, but now at the Galleria Mall Stadium Cinemas 15 in Centerville (or at least if it lasts more than one week), we've got in "Cedar Rapids" a low-key but genuinely likable comedy worth checking out before it disappears.

Director Miguel Arteta's fish-out-of-water comedy stars Ed Helms of "The Office" as a small-town Iowa insurance salesman who gets his big break when he gets to attend the big annual conference in the titular "Cedar Rapids" (what happened to the guy he replaces is something I won't go into in this column that also appears in a family newspaper - let's just say its one of the many ways that Arteta mixes in some raunch in this generally and genuinely otherwise sweet tale.)

From the outset, Arteta and screenwriter Phil Johnston, a native Iowan, both embrace the oddity of the American Midwest and at the same time poke fun at it consistently, starting with the thrill that Helms' Tim Lippe gets from simply going through airport security. Once he reaches the "big city," Helms does what he does best on "The Office," mainly react to others. And "Cedar Rapids" is full of funny folks for him to bounce off of, starting with John C. Reilly's Dean Ziegler, who steals every inch of screen he's given.

He's so natural a comedian now that it's easy to forget Reilly was once a fairly serious character actor, even garnering an Oscar nomination for his portrayal of "Mr. Cellophane" in "Chicago." Since then, however, he's buddied up with one Will Ferrell, and has adopted many of Ferrell's best comedy touches and combined them his own hangdog appeal. He gets his best character yet here in Dean Ziegler, the ultimate buffoon-with-a-big-heart, and as much as he'll make you cringe (stick around through the closing credits for another joke so tasteless there is, again, no way it can be repeated here), he also makes you cheer as he and Helms make a mismatched buddy team of sorts.

The main ensemble is rounded out by Anne Heche, funnier than she's been in years as a married woman on the prowl, and Isaiah Whitlock Jr., who played sleazy pol Clay Davis on "The Wire" and gets plenty of mileage here out of subverting the expectations for his character by channeling one of that show's other most beloved (and extremely violent) characters. Very good in supporting roles are the always-welcome Stephen Root as Lippe's boss and mentor, and Alia Shawkat of "Arrested Development" as a hooker who bonds with Lippe as she works the convention crowd.

In all, the movie could use a little more edge, never really reaching the satiric level of the best movies of Alexander Payne, who is one of the producers of "Cedar Rapids." But it does have a real heart and humanity that's sorely missing in most of what passes for comedy nowadays, and like the best of Arteta's movies ("The Good Girl," "Chuck & Buck" and "Youth in Revolt"), it's packed with genuine characters that he embraces even as he ridicules them.

And for that, plus plenty of low-key laughs, it's well worth the 20-minute-or-so drive down the road for Maconites to check out "Cedar Rapids" in Centerville while you still can.


Justin said...

I've been wanting to see this but the closest it's gotten to me is Chicago and driving for 75 minutes or more doesn't appeal. Ah well.

Reel Fanatic said...

I'd agree that it's not worth that long a drive, Justin ... I was tempted a bit to drive to Atlanta, an hour for me, to see it, but luckily it finally came a lot closer last week ...