MFR Rating: ★ ★ ★
After watching the first couple of trailers I thought to myself that the stars of the US version of The Office are really doing pretty well for themselves. Jim Halpert popped up in a cheesy looking romcom and Holly Flax in a promising looking indie comedy. Just as that thought started to settle, the next trailer presented Phyllis Vance alongside Cameron Diaz in a shoddy looking chick flick. “Ha”, I thought. And as soon as that trailer ended, up popped Andy Bernard in his sequel to The Hangover. Four trailers, four stars of The Office. The Dunder Mifflin stars certainly deserve their big screen conversions, but Cedar Rapids feels somewhat lifeless.
Ed Helms is up again in the main feature. His ‘Office’ persona as his lovable, acapella singing, Cornell graduated salesman certainly tempted my choice of film. Helms plays Tim Lippe, a slightly nerdy and extremely awkward salesman who is finally awarded his big break, to attend a prestigious insurance conference following the death of a colleague. Upon meeting two of the conference’s veterans, hilarity supposedly ensues. The poster of Rapids states ‘if you loved The Hangover, you’ll love this’. This isn’t the first movie to use such unimaginative marketing, the woeful Hot Tub Time Machine and somewhat-decent Due Date used the same strategy. But unfortunately, none of these films are nearly as amusing as the first Hangover and it takes more than just some outlandish male leads to emulate such feet. It takes a decent script, too.
At the beginning of the film I thought there might be a decent little quirky comedy somewhere to be unraveled. I really wanted to enjoy it, I love Ed Helms and I hope he has a promising big screen career ahead. But the material here falls flat. It moved from watchable but devoid of enough jokes, to boring, to crass, to desperate. Anyone who’s seen The Wire will recognize Clay ‘sheeeeeeeeeeiiit’ Davis (Isiah Whitlock Jr.) as one of the conference veterans. And if you haven’t seen The Wire, what’s wrong with you? But for those of us fortunate enough to have done, the constant winks to the audience as Whitlock delivers three less-than-subtle nods to The Wire are embarrassingly poor. Yes, we recognise him as an actor from Baltimore’s finest ensemble, but those who don’t recognise will feel confused and those who have just feel embarrassed the writers couldn’t produce jokes of a better quality than nods to an actor’s earlier career. One of your actors was in The Wire? Well done, have a biscuit.
It doesn’t get a great deal better from John C. Reilly who plays another conference attendee. In fact, it gets worse. Toilet humour and obnoxiousness rarely make for an amusing comedy character and in every scene featuring Reilly I just wanted his ugly, over grown childish persona to vanish. He really does suck the life out of any possibility of a funny film. There’s a deeper message about how even insurance salesmen have a heart, which could have been perfectly satisfying but just gets lost in the mesh of mediocrity which came before it.
Cedar Rapids is your typical post-Hangover b-movie. It’s not dreadful, but it’s a long way from being good. Let’s just hope Helms will be involved in a superior production later this month with the release of the The Hangover Part II, but I do worry it may already be a victim of of its predecessor’s success. The genre of the hilarious escapades of a mish mash of outsiders in out-of-their-depth situations already seems to be running a little thin.
Cedar Rapids is out now in the UK and US. Certificate 15 (UK). Running time: 87 mins.
Review by David Rank