Friday, April 8, 2011

Cedar Rapids - ***1/2

Nice guy leaves his cozy surroundings and gets sucked into a lifestyle of chaos and debauchery... It's a familiar comedy premise, and a tired one at that. Ed Helms plays our nice guy, Tim Lippe, a small town insurance agent chosen to go to an annual insurance convention, where the Twin Diamond Award is given to the representative who displays outstanding character and respect for God. What's amazing about Cedar Rapids is that it completely sidesteps all of the boring pratfalls that most films of this kind seem to indulge.

The film spins the usual premise by putting a nice guy in with other nice guys who use the weekend-long convention to cut loose and maybe have two cocktails instead of one and get up to sing some karaoke. It's a silly situation, but the cast is disciplined enough to play it straight, even when it starts to spiral out of control. The most noteworthy of several strong performances is John C. Reilly, who takes the role of the reckless, attention-craving asshole (though he's still a really nice guy), who steals just about every scene he's in. It's nothing short of hilarious, but Reilly pulls of this overbearing oaf so naturally that you can't even tell he's trying to be funny.

Cedar Rapids walks a thin line between banality and self-parody surprisingly effectively. The film was written by Phil Johnson, who masks his attempts for humor so well that it gives the actors an opportunity to flesh out these characters, who in another film would just be absurd conduits for laughs, but here are real people in an absurd PG-rated fantasy land. And though I'd honestly say that there isn't a failed joke in the film, the periods in which there are none more than sustain themselves with character and tenderness.

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