In the past couple of years, I haven't been that fond of comedies produced by independent studios and companies. They always seemed more quirky than necessary while the trailer would advertise them as these "laugh-a-minute" type of movies that I usually expect from Judd Apatow and his cohorts. Cedar Rapids falls somewhere in between and I'm actually happy it does. The premise of the film is that an insurance salesman, named Tim Lippe (Ed Helms,) is sent to an insurance convention after the guy who was supposed to go for his company died under suspicious (read as 'hilarious') circumstances. Tim's job is to win the coveted Two Diamonds Award that represents excellence in insurance sales. His company has previously won the award for the past several years. Yet the convention turns into another experience altogether as Tim encounters a large cast of characters played by a fantastic ensemble consisting of John C. Reilly, Anne Heche, Isiah Whitlock Jr., Stephen Root, Kurtwood Smith, Alia Shawkat, Rob Corddry, Mike O'Malley, and Sigourney Weaver.
This time the word that comes to mind for this movie is delightful. Helms is perfect as the guy who is oblivious to the adult world when he gets thrown into another (that is just a few states over from where he lives) and yet the role is not a carbon-copy of his character from The Office or The Hangover. Instead of going for the whole "this convention is a culture shock to Tim", the filmmakers go with "this convention is full of some of the most insane characters Tim has ever met in his life", and none of these characters are completely unrealistic thanks to the talent that is portraying them.
I quickly looked at who made the film and I should've known that I would be pleasantly surprised. Although this is Phil Johnston's first script (and it got a lot of love thanks to the Black List) this film is from Miguel Arteta who previously gave life to just as intelligent scripts from Mike White (the end results was one film called Chuck and Buck and another called The Good Girl). The film is produced by Alexander Payne and he pretty much follows a similar M.O. You have reasonable and insane characters meeting up and unintentional hilarity ensues in inappropriate settings. Most importantly of all, Arteta/Payne/Johnston understand that the characters and their emotions should trump the laughs and the quirk.
The highlight performance of this piece is John C. Reilly as Dean Ziegler. Reilly can be known for his wide range of dramatic roles in films such as Days of Thunder, Hoffa, What's Eating Gilbert Grape?, The River Wild, Dolores Claiborne, Hard Eight, Boogie Nights, The Thin Red Line, For the Love of the Game, Magnolia, The Perfect Storm, The Anniversary Party, The Good Girl, Criminal, The Aviator, and A Prairie Home Companion. He can also be known for his roles in comedies such as Anger Management, Talladega Nights, Walk Hard, The Promotion, and Step Brothers. On a final note, he is also noted for having a major supporting role in three Academy Award nominees for Best Picture in the same year (2002's Gangs of New York, Chicago, and The Hours). He also brilliantly balanced drama and comedy in Cyrus and will hopefully repeat this in God of Carnage. This may be my favorite comedic performance from him because this role is more grounded than his characters created by Adam McKay while still being just as hilarious. I guess the point I'm trying to make is that you should be easily impressed at his acting ability and versatility if you take a look at the roles he has played... and yet I still feel like the man's talent is criminally underrated or underestimated.
So... back to the movie I was talking about. It wasn't always funny, but it sure as hell was amusing, interesting, and entertaining for me. Oh, and it had John C. Reilly in it.