Film Review: Cedar Rapids

A film about an insurance convention sounds like an unappealing prospect, but Cedar Rapids is a lot more fun that the description suggests.

Tim Lippe is an insurance salesman who is happy coasting at his Wisconsin workplace. When an accident occurs, Tim is sent to present at an insurance conference in Cedar Rapids. Nervous about the responsibility laid on his shoulders, Tim is taken under the wing of three insurance sales veterans…

Cedar Rapids is a comedy that works well for the majority of the time. The film is not relentlessly hilarious, but the often crude humour is amusing. Writer Phil Johnston keeps the humour accessible, with the odd in-joke thrown in for good measure. It is only towards the end that the mood starts to wane.

For the most part, director Miguel Artera maintains a light atmosphere which makes it permissible to laugh at everything. Some of the jokes are not political correct, but this is the fun of Cedar Rapids. In the final third of the film there is a shift to more serious matters, when emotion overrules comedy. This works fine, as the film never becomes too overindulgent. However, it is the comedy that is the real draw.

Narrative-wise, Cedar Rapids is a little formulaic. Tim’s journey ends the way it is supposed to, and all ends are neatly tied. On occasion, the film does not do what is expected of it. This is particularly true in the case of Bree, who seems to have been introduced for a certain purpose, but leads the film somewhere else.

Tim is the type of character that is often featured in comedies. He is set in his ways, but also very naive to the world outside his small bubble. The protagonist is sometimes laughed at, but more often than not will share in the humour. Supporting characters are developed well, and go beyond the caricatures they could have become.

Ed Helms is a great comedy actor, showing more of the same as Tim. The role is not a million miles from Stu in The Hangover, nevertheless it is the type of character Helms plays exceptionally well. John C. Reilly gives a fantastic performance as Dean Ziegler, capturing the larger-than-life nature of the character. Isiah Whitlock Jr. is great as Ronald, bringing humour and intensity to proceedings. Anne Heche seems to have a lot of fun as Joan.

Cedar Rapids is a great comedy for those in the market for something light and fun. The film is unlikely to stay with you, but that surely is the point.

Film Review: Due Date

Due Date has been heavily advertised as ‘from the director of The Hangover’, hoping to capitalise on the success of Todd Phillips 2009 film. Sadly, Due Date does not rise to the same plane as Phillips’ earlier film, although it desperately tries to.

After he is put on a no-fly list, Peter Highman is forced to hitch a ride with Ethan Tremblay, the guy responsible for his troubles, in order to get back to Los Angeles in time for the birth of his first child. Although the pair have days to get there, it is a tumultuous journey…

Due Date borrows heavily from the 1987 film Planes, Trains and Automobiles. Due Date takes the premise of John Hughes’ film (two mis-matched companions having to make a long journey in order to make it home for an event) and tweaks only minor elements. Anyone who has seen the 1987 film will recognise the similarities from the very off.

Originality aside, the crucial mistake made by the film is to try and inject too many emotional or more serious moments. The humour in Due Date is sometimes crude but ultimately funny. Yet the filmmakers decided to feature more poignant scenes that just do not gel with this type of comedy. The result is a film that is amusing for the most part, but one that is interrupted by a story that thinks it is necessary to give an emotional layer to its characters. The combination of drama and comedy can work together incredibly well, but Due Date‘s reluctance to play down the emotion may irritate some viewers.

Robert Downey Jr. and Zach Galifianakis have great chemistry, and are well cast as the odd couple. Downey Jr. does highly strung very well, which is in complete contrast to Galifianakis’ relaxed but annoying Ethan. Juliette Lewis is fun as ever in a minor role.

Phillips direction is good, keeping an appropriate pace and capturing some amusing visual gags, a number of which feature Ethan’s dog. Influence from The Hangover is clear in the soundtrack and the pop culture references.

Due Date is entertaining enough, but its flaws are inescapable. Hopefully the sequel to The Hangover will see a return to form for Phillips.