Tim Lippe (Ed Helms) is a small town insurance agent who's just been thrown in with the sharks. Tim spends his time helping his clients, and running an honest insurance business. When his boss asks him to represent the company at a yearly insurance agent retreat, Tim accepts. Tim's employer, Brownstar Insurance, has won the coveted Two Diamond award for three years running. They're up for their fourth, and shy, unassuming Tim has to bring home the prize at all costs.
You can imagine what a group of insurance agents getting together is like, right? Sure, Tim is one of the honest ones, but he's soon thrown in with a group of individuals who don't run their businesses the same way. He's warned about Dean Ziegler (John C. Reilly), who has a reputation of poaching clients from other agents. Joan Ostrowski-Fox (Anne Heche) is a fiery red-head looking to keep a leg up in a business that's run predominantly by men. Ronald Wilkes (Isiah Whitlock Jr.) is a good guy who is just trying to earn an honest living by selling insurance.
'Cedar Rapids' first premiered at Sundance earlier this year, but I didn't get a chance to see it when I was attending the festival. It was received positively, but there was never an overwhelming feeling that it was a must see film. While the movie is at times a forgettable, raunchy R-rated comedy, Ed Helms' performance is just the opposite. Who knew that Helms had such range? Helms gives Tim a sense of sincerity that's impossible to overlook. He's sleeping with a woman (Sigourney Weaver) who used to be his school teacher when he was twelve. He believes the relationship is more than what it is. Like a child with a crush, he clings to his non-existent relationship, while she treats it as a fling. Tim is undeterred though. That's the way he runs. He's built to help people, and honestly believes that selling insurance is beneficial. There's a speech he gives halfway through the movie where we get the feeling that insurance salesmen have been getting a bum rap all these years. The way Tim explains it, it sounds like the most noble profession on earth.
When Tim travels to Cedar Rapids for the retreat he soon finds out that not everyone shares his rosy, optimistic views on life and insurance. It's a cutthroat business, but there are friends to be made. I thought the way the movie treated Dean Ziegler was perfect. Too many movies would have made him out to be a villainous scumbag without any redeeming qualities. Yes, he may be a loud-mouth and a raucous drunk, but deep down he's just like Tim. He'll help a friend out if they're in need.
'Cedar Rapids' has an understated air of humor to it. It's a low-key comedy. There's no real in-your-face slapstick humor going on here. It has a certain indie feel to it that makes it more palatable than your run-of-the-mill R-rated comedy about adults acting like giant children. It has a curious self-awareness to it too. The constant references that Ronald Wilkes makes about HBO's series 'The Wire' are subversively funny since anyone who watched that show knows that Isiah Whitlock Jr. was on it.
Where 'Cedar Rapids' falls short is Tim's coming-of-age story, so to speak, seems like we've seen it before. The same type of story was told in 'The 40-Year-Old Virgin, where a naïve, middle-aged man finally took control of his own life. That said, Helms – and to a lesser degree Reilly and Whitlock – is the reason to see this movie. He's transformed for this role. Anyone who's watched him in 'The Office' and 'The Hangover' should be stunned by what he's pulled off here.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
20th Century Fox has packaged 'Cedar Rapids' in a standard Blu-ray case. Inside you'll find the feature housed on a BD-50 Blu-ray Disc. There's also a disc provided for a Digital Copy of the movie. PocketBlu has been provided incase you want to redeem your Digital Copy that way and have the movie with you on the move.
'Cedar Rapids' has a very distinct look. About 20 minutes into the movie my wife asked if it was a period piece from the 80s. I said I didn't know, and then someone pulled out a cell phone. The look and feel of the movie – with its dark earthy tones – communicates a movie from the late 70s or early 80s. I don't say that negatively by any means, but it may be easy to mistake 'Cedar Rapids' as a period movie.
This film was shot digitally, but has a very filmic look to it. Details are deep and rich. Close ups reveal all kinds of detail. Intricate pores and facial features appear extremely lifelike. Individual strands of hair are visible. Take note of Anne Heche's bright red hair in this movie and how clearly visible it is. Blacks could use some help. It seemed like they appeared flat at times, crushing out detail and hurting shadow delineation. I didn't notice any digital anomalies, and being a newly shot film the transfer is clear from any grime or specks.
You won't be disappointed if you pick this one up.
'Cedar Rapids' has a very stereotypical sound mix for talkative comedies. The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 presentation works as it should. It presents the dialogue clearly and concisely through the center channel. Ambient sound is nicely introduced in scenes like when Tim and his friends visit the hotel's pool and their voices echo. As Ziegler yells while being out of frame, his voice is placed exactly where it needs to be.
There aren't many frills to 'Cedar Rapid's audio presentation. It features a little bit of LFE when Tim finds himself at a dubious party with a prostitute. Ambient sound is nice there too with people milling about and the rear speakers kicking in with their activity. The sound stage opens up during a talent show when Tim performs his insurance-inspired Christmas song for the crowd. His voice is carried throughout the channels nicely. Finally, there aren't any technical maladies to speak of.
This soundtrack's clean design is present clearly throughout.
Helms gives a great performance as Tim Lippe, one that rivals Steve Carrell's performance in 'The 40-Year-Old Virgin,' as a naïve man who's been thrown headfirst into the deep end of life and is asked to tread water as long as he can. If he doesn't learn how to swim fast, the world will drown him. Asidefrom Helms' performance, 'Cedar Rapids' shows flashes of brilliance, but only flashes. Tim's inevitable change is too formulaic for the movie's own good. We can see it coming and know exactly how it's going to play out. Still, if you're looking for a funny indie flick, 'Cedar Rapids' may be for you. The audio and video presentations turned out great. I'm giving 'Cedar Rapids' a light recommendation on Blu-ray.