by Steve Habrat
Comedian Ed Helms is such a talented guy, it’s hard not to just love him. The guy can sing, dance, play instruments, and do comedy with the best comedians out there. Take 2011’s Cedar Rapids, an uproariously funny comedy decked out in earth tones and Dockers. Cedar Rapids is Helms’s first starring comedy that truly does his talent justice and doesn’t demand he resort to a string of dick jokes like The Hangover asks of him. This project also proves that Helms can do the heavy lifting and lead a film from beginning to end. A much smaller film than his Hangover franchise, Cedar Rapids is a smaller and downright friendlier project that, yes, still has the same old bawdy jokes, but it is much more earnest and cordial, with direction that is much more mature and almost old fashioned. With Cedar Rapids, Helms comes out with his pride still in one piece and in the process, we learn that he has serious chemistry with man-baby John C. Reilly, leaving us begging for another project where the lax Reilly can torment the uptight Helms.
Cedar Rapids picks up the small, sleepy town of Brown Valley, Wisconsin, where we meet mild mannered Tim Lippe (Played by Helms), a sheltered and uptight insurance salesman. We learn that Tim has never really left his hometown and ventured out into the real world. He is pre-engaged to his 7th grade teacher Macy Vanderhei (Played by Sigourney Weaver) and he dedicates himself fully to the small insurance company he is employed at. When Lippe is given the opportunity to travel to Cedar Rapids to represent his company, Brownstar Insurance, at a regional conference and bring how the coveted Two Diamonds award, he graciously accepts and prepares for his trip to the big city. When he arrives in Cedar Rapids, he meets party animal Dean Ziegler (Played by Reilly), sexy red head Joan Ostrowski-Fox (Played by Anne Heche), and monotone Ronald Wilkes (Played by Isiah Whitlock Jr.). As Tim begins to lighten up and have fun, pressure from his boss Bill (Played by Stephen Root) begins getting the best of Tim, Bill demanding that Tim bring home the Two Diamond award any way he can. But Dean soon brings new information to Tim, sparking the group to suspect how honestly the Two Diamond awards are won.
The running joke of Cedar Rapids is the idea that Tim is an insurance salesman who refuses to take any major risks. He stays on a straight, safe path and if anything disrupts that order, Tim becomes a heaving, stammering mess who refuses to curse. He is always at odds with the nothing-is-off-limits Dean, who urges Tim to lighten up every chance he gets. When Tim does cut loose, he over compensates for living such a sheltered existence. He parties with a free-spirited prostitute Bree (Played by Alia Shawkat), doing hard drugs and heavy drinking. He also sparks up a romantic relationship with Joan, who has a secret of her own. Most importantly, Tim learns he has options, something that never revealed itself until he steps out of his safe zone, Brown Valley. It is also when Tim is shaken out of his naivety that the true colors of those around him sweep through their out shells.
Is it too much to ask that we get a sequel to Cedar Rapids? Every single member of the cast seems to be at home in their roles. You’ll die laughing when Dean makes Tim squirm out of discomfort. You’ll howl when Ronald babbles on about The Wire and does his impersonations. And how about Arrested Development’s Alia Shawkat playing a bad girl prostitute with a wild streak? I wanted more of the romance between Tim and Joan, an onscreen couple who go together like peanut butter and jelly. It is always a treat when the director knows that their cast has great chemistry and he lets them go. Director Miguel Arteta allows his cats to guide the film, making his job almost effortless. Arteta does make Cedar Rapids into a bit of a celebration of the little guy. He mirrors this in his choice of the little guy Helms, who always seems pushed to the supporting role. Yet his film is a round of applause for the small, family owned business, the small, sheltered hero, and the rag tag group who has to pull together to prevail.
Even though Cedar Rapids is a smaller film, it never falls victim to the “Garden State syndrome”, ya know, the one where the film features crude illustrations for the opening credit sequence, there is Napoleon Dynamite style humor sprinkled throughout, and there are countless indie rock bands (The Shins, Belle & Sebastian, etc.) strumming their acoustic guitars on the soundtrack. While Cedar Rapids maintains its indie cred with the small scope and a slew of offbeat actors, you never feel like you need to be wearing horn rimmed glasses and skinny jeans to really appreciate it. You never get the sense that the film gives off the vibe that it is too cool to be viewed by you. In fact, Cedar Rapids in almost dorky! This makes falling for this film even easier, because it lacks all the glitz and glamour of a mainstream comedy. It really is the comedy next door.
Cedar Rapids is now available on Blu-ray and DVD.
by Steve Habrat
Let’s be honest, the premise of Horrible Bosses, a revenge-fantasy comedy that places three Average Joes at the center of an intricate plot to off their bosses a la Alfred Hitchcock’s Stranger’s on a Train could strike a chord with many casual moviegoers. Why? Because who HASN’T had a boss that has made their lives a living hell! It’s an amusing “What if?” that provides some minor laughs in the dead heat of the summer and a surprisingly small picture going toe to toe with films like Transformers, Harry Potter, and Captain America. But the film has a charming underdog persona that many can’t quite ignore (It also happens to feature an all-star cast!) and leaves you hoping it will be remembered once it’s long gone from theaters. I say this because the film walks the fine line between classic dark comedy and comedy-no-one-will-remember-in-a-year territory. I consider it a blue-collar comedy that pours it’s blood, sweat, and tears into all the shenanigans to make you laugh but sometimes it comes up a bit short. It’s a shame it might get lost in shuffle.
Every summer has a sleeper hit that audiences pass on via word of mouth. It ends up making a boatload of money and it usually turns out to be a comedy. We’ve already had a 50/50 summer when it comes to comedy and, frankly, comedy has been very uninteresting for quite a while. We had Bridesmaids which was a surprise smash and was a breath of fresh air. Two weeks later, the guys of the Hangover crashed the party and left everyone with a bad taste in their mouths. We’ve also seen Bad Teacher, one that was heavily hyped but largely written off by many and Zookeeper, another dud chucked out by Happy Madison. Now we have the often witty, sometimes disappointing Horrible Bosses, in which three nice guys decide they’ve had enough of their tyrannical bosses and decide to off them for each other. By killing each other’s, they are spared a suspected motive by the police and they end getting off punishment free. It’s a bit of a tired premise and really isn’t that inspired of an idea, but it will resonate! Especially if you take the dry asides of Jason Bateman (Arrested Development), the screeching insanity of Charlie Day (It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia) and smart-ass narcissism of Jason Sudeikis (SNL) and pair them up against the sadistic Kevin Spacey, man-eating Jennifer Aniston, and the under-used coke addict Colin Farrell.
The three amigos, Nick (Bateman), Dale (Day), and Kurt (Sudeikis) enlist the help of a professional killer in Mother Fucker Jones, played by the dead-pan Jamie Foxx. They slam their heads together and they embark on a bumbling journey to expel their demonoid bosses from planet earth. The usually sticky situations follow and they are mostly all amusing. They sneak around their intended victims homes, accidentally get high on cocaine, stupidly leave their DNA everywhere, and drool over a lingerie clad Aniston as she deep throats a popsicle, a banana, and a hot dog. It’s good to see a fresh line-up of comedians like we have here, but they seem a bit new to the scene, in all honesty. They try to ad-lib with the best of them but sometimes it’s a bit forced and amateur, especially from Day who relies on his bat-shit crazy persona he crafted for his character on It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. He rattles off some winners and delivers some stink bombs that are intended to shock the audience into belly laughs. The most laughs come from Bateman, who delivers some zingers (One about fleeing to Canada will have you in stitches), Foxx who demonstrates extraordinary comedic timing (His explanation of how he got the name Mother Fucker will have you covering your mouth), and the largely ignored Colin Farrell, who delivers countless one liners that will leave you quoting for weeks (Wait until you see his outtakes!). Sudeikis fails to grab many of the chuckles and he passes himself off as a second rate Nick Swardson, who is funnier anyway. The casting could have been a bit stronger without his character. Spacey is clearly having fun but his character descends too far into downright evil territory. I know we are supposed to hate him but c’mon!! Aniston has some eyebrow-raising moments, mostly when she shows up almost nude in one particular scene and fires off more racy innuendos than any character in a Judd Apatow picture. She surprisingly churns out one of her better performances since Office Space. Julie Bowen (Modern Family) also shows up as Spacey’s wife but she is basically ignored in all the chaos.
There isn’t much to say in the way of Horrible Bosses. It’s charming even if it’s consistently raunchy and it’s hard to dislike it. There are clever gags and the film does not overstay it’s welcome by any stretch. It was a nice breather from all the explosions and superheroes that have been zipping around theaters. But I think that filmmakers could have poured a bit more time into this film. It’s a bit rough around the edges and appears rushed at times. You are left feeling that all the events that took place in the film were minor and insignificant. You want to rally behind it but sometimes it’s impossible to do just that. When all is said and done, it never really feels like these horrible bosses have had it stuck to them. Further, it falls short of the sleeper status that I thought would surely follow in its wake. Overall, it grasps at comedy greatness but comes up with comedy goodness. Don’t worry though; it will still have you chuckling to yourself as you punch the clock the next morning.
Horrible Bosses is now available on Blu-ray and DVD.