Cedar Rapids (Blu-ray + Digital Copy)
Directed by Miguel Arteta
Studio: 20th Century Fox
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 1080p AVC codec
Running Time: 87 minutes
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 English; Dolby Digital 5.1 Spanish
Subtitles: SDH, French, Spanish
MSRP: $ 39.99
Release Date: June 21, 2011
Review Date: June 22, 2011
Fish out of water comedies have been around almost since the beginning of movies, and the premise of Miguel Arteta’s Cedar Rapids where an innocent waif is shown the grown-up world of booze, drugs, and hookers is as stale as week-old bread. The film is aided by a delightful cadre of excellent comic actors who take lots of these clichés and, if not making them memorable, at least make them palatable. The film fades from the mind as soon as it’s finished, but the journey is a fairly pleasant is overly familiar one to be sure.
Child-man Tim Lippe (Ed Helms) has a safe, secure little life in Brown River, Wisconsin, completely unencumbered by temptations or the need to explore the world outside his tiny hamlet. He’s an insurance salesman who appeals to his customers with his what-you-see-is-what-you-get simplicity and honesty. When champion salesman Roger Lemke (Thomas Lennon) dies on the eve of the big insurance convention, a meeting where his boss’ (Stephen Root) BrownStar Insurance Agency has carried off the top company award for the past three years, Tim is chosen to bring the company further glory. Having never left home before, however, poses problems for Tim as the convention is in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, maybe not a hotbed of sin and temptation but something strange and debilitating for the naïve Tim. He’s also got two suitemates: an “African-American gentleman” Ronald Wilkes (Isiah Whitlock, Jr.) and rowdy, outrageous Dean Ziegler (John C. Reilly) whom his boss warns him to stay far away from. Try as he might, he wants to fit in, and one sweet sherry leads to a weekend with everything from a hooker (Alia Shawkat) and her pimp (Seth Morris) to a married woman (Anne Heche), a meth dealer (Rob Corddry), and bribes, alcohol, and drugs galore.
Director Miguel Arteta and screenwriter Phil Johnston haven’t really provided us with anything fresh or new here. Had star/executive producer Ed Helms not been a part of two Hangover pictures with some of the same outlandish shenanigans happening unexpectedly to him, maybe this material wouldn’t feel so rehashed. There’s not much fun in seeing a decent man (albeit with incredibly unbelievable naiveté and inexperience) succumb so easily to things he previously didn’t approve of, so whatever merriment is to be had must be gleaned from the cast who play to their strengths in improvisation and to well-honed personas they’ve developed in other projects. Arteta does manage to make a scavenger hunt momentarily diverting, and that meth house excursion, while fairly pedestrian, has a couple of decent jokes hidden among the insults and derogatory abuse heaped at the protagonists. But much of the film is unspectacularly handled, and the ending is beyond predictable. A couple of throwaway comic scenes during the final credits would seem to make more interesting films than the one we’ve just witnessed.
Ed Helms is a very funny comic actor, but I’m not sure he’s ready to front a major motion picture. His dweeb who blossoms under the tutelage of some more experienced hands seems more like a supporting character who’s been thrust into the leading role and just isn’t interesting enough to carry the film. John C. Reilly’s all-stops-out loudmouth steals all the scenes he’s in and is even given a poignant moment when he realizes the party is over and he’s the one all alone and left with the lampshade on his head (or in his case a garbage lid). Isiah Whitlock, Jr. as a man only slightly less square than Tim milks all of his moments for their ultimate humor even going so far as tub thumping his love of HBO’s The Wire, a show he was a notable cast member of. Anne Heche is momentarily off-putting at first with her endless stream of unfunny sarcasm, but she shows some vulnerability later and gains our affections. In a small role, Sigourney Weaver may raise some eyebrows as Tim’s former teacher who’s now his occasional romantic partner. Even less well used is Mike O'Malley as a rival insurance salesman whose character is a cipher.
The film has been framed at its theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1 and is presented in 1080p using the AVC codec. The film has a rather bland look to it with rather banal color saturation levels. Flesh tones are accurate certainly, but most of the movie has a very low key look. Sharpness is very good, and black levels are fine if not exemplary. The film has been divided into 24 chapters.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 sound mix is a very predictable comedy soundtrack meaning that the rears are underused except for the music (which is rather constant; Christopher Beck provided the score) and that the majority of the sound design is frontcentric. Dialogue has been well recorded and firmly resides in the center channel.
Unless otherwise noted, the featurettes are presented in 1080p.
There are six deleted scenes which may be viewed individually or in one 7 ¼-minute grouping.
The film’s gag reel runs for 4 ¼ minutes.
“Convention Connection” features interviews with seven principal actors about their roles and their experiences in making the movie. The actors participating are Ed Helms, John C. O’Reilly, Isiah Whitlock, Jr., Anne Heche, Kurtwood Smith, Stephen Root, and Alia Shawkat. Their interviews may be played separately or in one 13 ¼-minute bunch.
“Mike O’Malley – Urban Clogger” is a 3-minute piece showing Mike O’Malley learning to tap dance from choreographer Shane Gruber for a brief moment at the convention.
“Tweaking in the USA” deals with the meth house sequence and features interviews with actors Rob Corddry, Alia Shawkat, and Seth Morris and director Miguel Arteta. It runs for 6 ¼ minutes.
“Wedding Belles – Crashing a Lesbian Wedding” features interviews with screenwriter Phil Johnston and production designer Doug Meerdink about this sequence in the movie that appears to be more elaborate than what shows up in the final film.
“Top Notch Commercial” is the faux commercial made by Tim after the conclusion of the film’s story. It’s in 1080i and runs for 1 ¼ minutes.
The theatrical trailer runs for 2 ½ minutes.
“The Fox Movie Channel Presents” offers separate interviews with director Miguel Arteta (6 ¾ minutes) and screenwriter Phil Johnston (6 ¾ minutes). Each is in 480i.
The disc is BD-Live ready. There is one exclusive featurette at the film’s internet site: “Ed Helms’ Mad Chopper Skills” which shows the actor manipulating a series of model helicopters in this 2 ½-minute vignette.
There are promo trailers for Win Win, Skateland, and Big Mommas: Like Father, Like Son.
The second disc in the set is the digital copy of the movie with enclosed instructions for installation on Mac and PC devices.
3/5 (not an average)
Mildly amusing with its heart in the right place, Cedar Rapids is a conventional man-awakens-to-life comedy that’s overly familiar but nevertheless full of appealing actors doing sly if expected things. A nice bonus feature package adds value to the set for fans of the film.