Don’t miss the first 10 minutes of Cedar Rapids. Don’t pop into a student union theater late and don’t catch it on Showtime a wee bit after it begins. If you do, you’ll jump straight into a glut of lewd jokes, a ragtag crew of insurance agents figuring out how to bond, and a fine example of how to keep a luxury hotel from the '70s looking classy. The northern part of this country can be a wacky place to traverse through on your own, and you really need a little build-up to get you there. When you do, I’ll be damned if you don’t find a movie full of charm, humor, and a whole lot of heart.
Tim Lippe (Ed Helms) is an insurance man from Wisconsin, a hometown dude who just wants to provide professional, personal service. Life is looking pretty good: Lippe has bonded with many customers in his area and secured a position at BrownStar Insurance. He’s even sleeping with his former grade school teacher (Sigourney Weaver). Unfortunately, within the confines of the work place, Lippe is overshadowed by the more affable Roger Lemke (Thomas Lennon), a company favorite and yearly representative at the AMSI convention where he successfully defends BrownStar’s two-diamond ranking.
His life turns upside when Lemke dies under undesirable circumstances. Suddenly, the burden of winning the two diamonds for BrownStar falls on Lippe’s shoulders. All he has to do is convince Orin Helgesson (Kurtwood Smith) -- the director of AMSI and the convention guy everyone wants to get in good with -- that BrownStar deserves its morality-based award. He must do this while keeping quiet about the circumstances of Lemke’s death. Should be easy for the guy permanently dwelling in the background.
Until he meets his bunkmates. Ronald (Isiah Whitlock Jr.) is hardworking and doesn’t stand to ruin Lippe’s chances, but Dean (John C. Reilly) is a verbally uncouth, against-the-grain salesman. One of them is ready to get his party on. Warned about Dean by his boss, at first Lippe is wary of the loud man, but he soon realizes Dean is not villainous, and is even rather kindhearted, just lacking in intelligence and tact. Fun roommates or no, Lippe seems clearly ready to take the moral high ground and avoid the partying…and then Joan Ostrowski-Fox (Anne Heche) rounds out the group and changes the dynamic of the weekend from one of work to one of pleasure.
With a loudmouth fool, a man with a wicked The Wire impression, and a bored, handsy mom in tow, the tone of Cedar Rapidsmoves away from a pointed commentary on middle-American life to something idiosyncratic and a whole lot funnier. This is mostly due to the actors' antics: they are characters, but never caricatures. They bond and they behave like real (weird) people, and the film is better off for it. Every once and a while director Miguel Arteta takes the film off the rails -- mostly during an interchange with some drugs and a prostitute -- but even then, there are no hitches and the film moves fluidly back on track.
Despite its name, Cedar Rapids is never about Iowa. It’s about what can happen when the right people escape from home for one weekend. It’s about broadening horizons, but mostly it's about learning how to have a good laugh. In Cedar Rapids, a group of strangers get to live a small fantasy for one weekend each year. For one weekend, Dean gets to pretend to be a hardass, Orin gets to be the big man on campus, and Joan gets to be a brazen chick with an attitude. For one weekend, Tim Lippe gets to play the hero, even though he never really wanted it and won’t change much because of it. Cedar Rapids is not your average R-rated raunch comedy. It’s a nod to the Slapshots of film and the underdogs who embrace them. By god, we needed it.
The menu for Cedar Rapids is nice, although the extras aren’t particularly spectacular. The extras are interesting, most of all because more of the special features are available through BD Live than on the disc itself. The only extras on the disc are deleted scenes. With deleted scenes, you can usually tell exactly why a segment was cut from a film, which makes it a nice surprise when several of the scenes on a disc are worth a watch. The Cedar Rapids deleted scenes are mostly a good time; one scene might even have truly deserved a place in the film. It was likely pulled because it would have somewhat changed the tone of the latter half of the movie.
In the BD Live section, there is a theatrical trailer and then a short segment where Ed Helms plays with a remote-controlled helicopter. It’s pretty weird. Next, there is an interview with John C. Reilly about his character. Reilly has a lot of nice things to say about Midwesterners, and the segment is worth it just because it highlights many of the obnoxious, hilariously blunt lines espoused by his character throughout the film. Overall, I am not enchanted by the Live features. It’s not that they aren’t entertaining. It’s just that you have to download the BD Live format onto your television and then download or stream each one of the extras separately. It takes some time. If I’m going to deal with extras, I’d rather see them on the disc.