Review: Cedar Rapids

Last Updated on August 5, 2021

PLOT: Tim Lippe (Ed Helms), a small-town insurance salesman, is sent to Cedar Rapids, Iowa to represent his company at an insurance convention. While there, he quickly falls under the sway of wild man Dean Ziegler (John C. Reilly), and along with reps Joan (Anne Heche), and Ronald (Isiah Whitlock Jr.) embarks on a wild weekend of partying.

REVIEW: CEDAR RAPIDS is one the films that’s being pushed the hardest at the Sundance Film Festival. Fox Searchlight has been promoting the heck out of it throughout the fest, and I suppose they feel they have a winner on their hands. Considering the wildly enthusiastic reception it got at the premiere screening, I suppose they’re right.

CEDAR RAPIDS is indeed a fun little comedy, and the latest from director Miguel Arteta, who also made CHUCK & BUCK, THE GOOD GIRL and YOUTH IN REVOLT. He’s got a dark edge to his comedy, but CEDAR RAPIDS is a far more cuddly film than you’d expect.considering his track record. Well, at least for the first hour or so it is…

For the most part, it’s really your typical fish out of water comedy, with Helms being the sheltered, oh-so naive small-town guy who’s never left his home town. Back home, he’s a mildly successful salesman, in the shadow of a more charismatic colleague. He carries on a relationship with his former high-school teacher (a nifty cameo by Sigourney Weaver) and seems content to stay in his home-town forever.

As Lippe, Helms is pretty good, although I must admit that it felt like this film was written as a Steve Carrell vehicle. In something like THE HANGOVER, or even on THE OFFICE, he’s able to distinguish himself a bit, but here he goes too deep into Carrell territory. He plays the same kind of naive innocent Carrell played so perfectly in THE 40 YEAR OLD VIRGIN, and every week on THE OFFICE, and it felt like everyone involved was just telling him to be like Steve.

Maybe this is a tad unfair, as Helms is a funny guy, and even if he is doing a Steve Carrell impression, he’s not a bad substitute. I just wish more effort had been made so that Lippe would seem like a more original comic creation. Most of the belly-laughs go to John C. Reilly, who plays the boisterous party animal, Dean Ziegler. Of the recent Reilly comedies, this is him at his most broad- which is the way he was in WALK HARD, and STEP-BROTHERS. He’s pretty damn funny as Ziegler, although it does feel like Reilly’s the same-old routine he’s been doing for years, but it must be said, he does it well, particularly while drunk in a hotel swimming pool, with a garbage lid on his head, doing an R2-D2 impression.

The real gems here are the other half of the star foursome; Anne Heche and Isiah Whitlock Jr. Heche isn’t really known for comedy, but she’s a natural as the fun, easygoing Joan Fox. For the rest of the year, she’s a buttoned down family woman, but when she hits her yearly trip in Cedar Rapids, the gal goes wild. She also sets her eyes on Helms as a potential fling, leading to some funny chemistry between the two.

Finally, there’s Isiah Whitlock Jr., who’s one of those character actors that pops up with tiny roles in everything. Here he gets to show off a surprising flair for comedy, as he plays the really buttoned-down, square part of the gang. His idea of going wild is watching an episode of THE WIRE (a funny in-joke, as Whitlock was a cast member on that show), and breaking out his Omar or Brother Mouzone impression (which are both funny, and uncanny).

For the first hour of CEDAR RAPIDS, I found it to be a fairly funny film, even if it wasn’t really offering anything new. It seemed like just another good formula comedy, and I was curious as to why Artega would direct it. He’s known for his darker streak, which got to new heights in the almost sociopathic (but hilarious) YOUTH IN REVOLT. Then, like clockwork, the dark streak emerged, and the last twenty minutes of the film take a surprisingly dark turn. Here, Helms takes a wild detour to a party where he snorts large amounts of cocaine- which is maybe a little dark for a comedy that was pretty tame up to that point, and seems more than a little out of character for such a buttoned down-guy. I wouldn’t say I was turned off by this dark turn, but I found once it got to this point, it became less funny. It seemed like they were trying to inject a little wild HANGOVER humour into the film, but it sticks out like a sore-thumb here, as this is not that kind of film.

My reservations about the last stretch of the film, I still more or less enjoyed CEDAR RAPIDS, although I found another Sundance comedy, MY IDIOT BROTHER to be a lot funnier. Still, it’s well-worth seeing for a couple of good chuckles, although this one might be more of a rental than something you’d want to rush out and see in theatres.

Review: Cedar Rapids



About the Author

Chris Bumbray began his career with JoBlo as the resident film critic (and James Bond expert) way back in 2007, and he has stuck around ever since, being named editor-in-chief in 2021. A voting member of the CCA and a Rotten Tomatoes-approved critic, you can also catch Chris discussing pop culture regularly on CTV News Channel.