Horror Film Review: I Know What You Did Last Summer (dir by Jim Gillipsie)


So, I recently read that it’s been 20 years since I Know What You Did Last Summer was first released into theaters.  This, of course, is the endlessly parodied film that not only launched the careers of Jennifer Love Hewitt, Ryan Phillippe, and Freddie Prinze, Jr. but which also served as inspiration for a countless number of YA horror stories.

Myself, I was too young to see the movie when it was first released but I do remember, a few years later, sneaking downstairs and watching it on HBO at two in the morning.  I’ve watched it several times since then.  For some reason, it’s one of those films that I always end up watching whenever I see it’s on TV.  I’m not sure why because I don’t think it’s a particularly good film.  As a horror fan, I think it’s a shame that this rather formulaic film has proven to be so influential while so many genuinely challenging horror films have been overlooked by critics and ignored by audiences.

The last time that I watched I Know What You Did Last Summer, I spent almost the entire movie yelling at Sarah Michelle Gellar.  “WHY DO YOU KEEP RUNNING UP THOSE STAIRS!?  HOW ARE YOU GOING TO ESCAPE FROM THE SECOND FLOOR!?”  Usually, I defend the stupidity of characters in certain horror films by pointing out that they’re usually in an extreme situation and it’s not easy to think rationally when you’ve got someone with an axe chasing you.  But the characters in I Know What You Did Last Summer really do test my patience.

Another thought that I had while watching I Know What You Did Last Summer was, “When did Johnny Galecki learn to act because it was definitely long after he appeared in this movie.”  Seriously, Galecki has developed into being a fairly good actor but he’s absolutely awful in I Know What You Did Last Summer.  He plays an early victim and, as much as I hate to see anyone die, it at least saved me from having to listen to another awkward line reading.

So, why do I keep watching this stupid movie?

Some of it’s because I do genuinely like the four main stars.  Like me, Jennifer Love Hewitt is a Texas girl and I imagine we both share the same struggle.  Sarah Michelle Gellar will always be Buffy to me.  Ryan Philippe’s nice to look at.  Even the reliably stiff Freddie Prinze, Jr. is rather likable in I Know What You Did Last Summer.  It’s fun to watch these four work together to try to find out who is stalking them and how it relates to the man that they accidentally killed last summer.  Of course, they’d probably be able to figure things out a lot quicker if they weren’t all so stupid but it can’t always be the members of the honor society who end up driving drunk and accidentally killing someone.

I also like the look of the film.  The film takes place in one of those North Carolina fishing villages and director Jim Gillipsie does a good job of making everything look dark, somber, and menacing.  That big hook that the killer carries with him always freaks me out.  I literally have to shut my eyes when he kills Bridgette Wilson.

And, of course, there’s this:

The “WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR!?” scene is without a doubt one of the greatest instances of overacting in the history of horror cinema.  I have literally gone hoarse imitating Jennifer Love Hewitt’s delivery of that line.  However, when it comes to why this scene is a must see, it’s not just the fact that Jennifer Love Hewitt screams the line out of nowhere.  There’s also the fact that she’s literally shouting it at no one, unless she’s attempting to address God or something.  (And judging from the overhead shot at the end of the scene, it would appear that God was listening.)  Plus, there’s that cast on Ryan Philippe and the hat on Sarah Michelle Gellar…

I Know What You Did Last Summer is a deeply stupid movie but it’s still one that I always seem to end up watching, if just so I can yell at everyone for not being smart enough to outwit a killer who doesn’t seem to be particularly bright himself.  It’s one of those films that I’ll leave on the TV if I come across it but, at the same time, it’s not a film that I ever feel the need to really pay much attention to.  It’s the cinematic equivalent of junk food, fun to eat but don’t try to shout “WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR!?” if your mouth’s full.

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Film Review: The Last Word (dir by Mark Pellington)


So, I watched The Last Word tonight.

It’s a film that premiered, earlier this year, at Sundance and then it got a very brief theatrical run.  It was directed by Mark Pellington, who is one of those odd directors who, for some reason, I always assume is more talented than he is.  Seriously, when I saw this was directed by Mark Pellington, I actually got excited.  I was like, “Mark Pellington!?  He’s great!”  Then I realized that I wasn’t really sure who Mark Pellington was.  I looked him up on Wikipedia and I realized that I was mistaking him for actor Mark Pellegrino.  Mark Pellegrino played Jacob on Lost and is an outspoken Libertarian.  Mark Pellington is some guy who started out in music videos and then eventually moved up to directing pedestrian films.

Anyway, the film stars Shirley MacClaine as this annoying old busybody who demands that Amanda Seyfried write her obituary because MacClaine wants to know what people are going to say about her after she’s dead.  When Seyfried discovers that everyone hates MacClaine, she writes a boring and very short obit.  “Everyone hates you,” she helpfully explains.  So, MacClaine sets out to do some great things so that her obituary will have a little more spark.  She’s going to set a fire of quirkiness, she is!  Of course, this leads to MacClaine adopting a little black orphan, getting a job as a DJ at the local radio station (she plays boring adult contemporary music, of course.  No EDM), and helping Seyfriend get a boyfriend.

To be honest, this film would probably be a lot more bearable if it was a prequel to Bernie, because then you would at least know that you could look forward to Jack Black showing up with a hunting rifle and putting everyone out of their misery.  Unfortunately, that doesn’t happen.  Instead, this is another one of those movies where a cranky old tyrant teaches all of us young folks how to better appreciate life.

Y’see, Shirley MacClaine is playing an oldster so she has a sharp tongue and she’s always putting people in their place.  Because she had to struggle, we’re supposed to ignore the fact that she spends most of her time making everyone around her miserable.

Amanda Seyfried, on the other hand, is a millennial so she puts her feet on her boss’s desk and has no direction in her life.  Why, she just needs some annoying, elderly busybody to come into her life and make her listen to smooth jazz.  She might even get a hipster boyfriend out of the deal!  (Of course, her potential hipster boyfriend is a 2008-style hipster as opposed to a 2017-style hipster.)

Meanwhile, AnnJewel Lee Dixon (as the little girl that MacClaine adopts) is a plot device so she doesn’t do anything unless the script specifically needs her to humanize the other characters.  She gets to dance towards the end of the film.

Oh, and then there’s Anne Heche.  She plays MacClaine’s estranged daughter.  The reunion between her and MacClaine is so overwritten and overperformed that some viewers will probably be inspired to rip out their hair while watching it.

Hey, did I mention that there’s a scene where MacClaine does something quirky and all of the supporting characters break out into applause?  I think we’re supposed to clap to but I think most members of the audience will be too busy ripping out their hair by the handful.

Fortunately, I really love my hair so I resisted the temptation to start plucking strands out of my head while watching the film.  It wasn’t easy, though.  To be honest, the pain of plucking a strand of hair is nothing compared to the pain of watching the first fifteen minutes of this film and realizing that you already know every thing that’s going to happen.  By the time that the priest showed up and started to cry while talking about a time that MacClaine’s character had been rude to him, I imagine that viewers with less self-control were halfway bald.  But, as I said, I love my hair too much to take my frustration out on it.  Instead, I just kicked the coffee table a few times.  Now, my foot hurts.  Ow.

Seeing as how Shirley MacClaine is one of the last of the truly great actresses from Hollywood’s Golden Age and she actually does give a pretty good performance (when the script allows her), it’s a shame that the rest of the movie is such a let down.  Then again, this film is full of talented people who are let down by an overwritten script and Mark Pellington’s painfully obvious direction.  This is one of those films that tries to hard to be profound that it forgets the importance of being entertaining.

As I watched this movie, I took a glance at Mark Pellington’s filmography.  Did you know that he directed The Mothman Prophecies?  The Last Word really could have used a visit from the Mothman.  Seriously, this film was crying out for a scene of MacClaine putting Mothman in his place.  The fact that Mothman did not appear leads me to wonder what exactly this film was hiding.

Seriously, why are the people behind The Last Word protecting the Mothman?

A Movie A Day #108: Against The Wall (1994, directed by John Frankenheimer)


The year is 1971 and Malcolm Smith (Kyle MacLachlan) has just started working as a prison guard at Attica Correctional Facility.  Even though his father (Harry Dean Stanton) was a prison guard, Malcolm does not fit in with the other guards at Attica.  Malcolm is younger than them and is disgusted by the inhumane treatment of the prisoners.  If not for his wife (Anne Heche) and the child that they are expecting, Malcolm would just quit but he needs the money.  He fears that he is going to eventually turn into just another sadistic guard.

When a prison riot breaks out, Malcolm is one of the guards taken hostage.  While the psychotic Chaka (Clarence Williams III) wants to kill all of the guards, Jamaal X (Samuel L. Jackson) realizes that killing the hostages will sacrifice what little leverage that prisoners have.  If the guards are killed, Jamaal X reasons, the state police will have no reason not to storm the prison and violently restore order.  Over the course of the four-day riot, Jamaal and Malcolm become unlikely friends and allies but it turns out that, even with the guards being held hostage, the government has no interest in negotiating with the prisoners.

This moving, thought-provoking, and well-acted docudrama originally aired on HBO and it won John Frankenheimer a well-deserved Emmy.  Samuel L. Jackson is powerful as Jamaal X and this is one of the few times that Kyle MacLachlan got to play a thoroughly normal person with no dark secrets or weird quirks.  Malcolm Smith is just a regular everyman who finds himself in the middle of a history-making event.

For fans of Twin Peaks, Against the Wall features three alumni of the show.  Kyle MacLachlan, of course, starred as Dale Cooper while Clarence Williams III appeared in one episode as Roger Hardy.  Finally, Harry Dean Stanton, a longtime favorite of David Lynch, appeared in Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me.

44 Days of Paranoia #16: Wag the Dog (dir by Barry Levinson)


For today’s entry in the 44 Days of Paranoia, we’re taking a look at Barry Levinson’s 1997 political satire, Wag The Dog.

Wag the Dog opens with a White House in crisis.  With two weeks to go until the Presidential election, it’s been discovered that the incumbent President has had a brief dalliance with a girl scout.  Up until the scandal became public, the President was enjoying at 17 point lead in the polls.  Now, that lead is about to evaporate unless something can be done to keep the American public from thinking about the President’s personal life.

Significantly, the President himself never appears on-screen.  We never learn his position on the issues.  We never hear about anything he’s done during his first term.  We don’t even know what political party he belongs to.  (However, his opponent is played by Craig T. Nelson so I’m going to assume that the President is a Democrat.  Because, seriously, it’s hard for me to imagine Nelson being anything other than a Republican…)  The President remains a shadowy and insubstantial figure who, in the end, represents nothing.

Instead of getting to know the President, we instead spend the film with the aides who have to clean up after his mess.  One of those aides, Winifred Ames (Anne Heche), calls in a legendary (and rather sinister) political PR man, Conrad Bean (Robert De Niro).  Conrad announces that the only way to save the campaign is to distract the American public with a quick and totally fake war with Albania.  Why Albania?  According to Conrad, Albania has a sinister name and nobody knows anything about it.

To help create this fake war, Conrad recruits Hollywood film producer, Stanley Motts (a hilariously manic Dustin Hoffman).  Much as Conrad is a legend in politics, Stanley is a legend in Hollywood.  Stanley enthusiastically jumps into the project of creating a fake war of Albania, manufacturing everything from fake war footage to patriotic songs to anything else necessary to rally the American public.  Denis Leary shows up as a mysterious figure known as the Fad King and schemes how to make war with Albania the latest trend.  Willie Nelson sings a song to stir the spirit of every patriotic American.  A very young Kirsten Dunst is recruited to play a terrified orphan in staged Albanian atrocity footage.  A shell-shocked vet (Woody Harrelson) is cast as the Albanian War’s first hero.  Stanley greets every problem with an enthusiastic exclamation of, “This is nothing!”

Along the way, a rather odd friendship develops between the secretive Conrad and the overly verbose Stanley.  However, when Stanley, who often laments that he’s never won an Oscar, starts to complain about the fact that he’s never going to get any recognition for his “greatest production,” Conrad finds himself forced to reconsider their relationship.

Wag the Dog was first released in 1997 and, thanks to David Mamet’s darkly comedic script and Barry Levinson’s brisk direction, the film feels incredibly prophetic.  Indeed, all the film needs is for someone to mention making the war a trending topic and it would be impossible to tell that it was made 16 years ago.  Wag the Dog accomplishes the best thing that any political satire can hope to accomplish: it makes you question everything.  Whenever one watches a news report triumphantly bragging about the latest done strike, it’s hard not to feel that Stanley Motts would approve.

Other entries in the 44 Days Of Paranoia:

  1. Clonus
  2. Executive Action
  3. Winter Kills
  4. Interview With The Assassin
  5. The Trial of Lee Harvey Oswald
  6. JFK
  7. Beyond The Doors
  8. Three Days of the Condor
  9. They Saved Hitler’s Brain
  10. The Intruder
  11. Police, Adjective
  12. Burn After Reading
  13. Quiz Show
  14. Flying Blind
  15. God Told Me To

My 2012 Emmy Nominations


So, for the past few days, I’ve been happily hopping around my section of the Shattered Lens Bunker and do you know why? 

Because it’s awards season, that’s why!  With the conclusion of the 2011-2012 TV season, Emmy ballots have been mailed and votes are being cast and, come July, we’ll know which shows and performers have been nominated for the 2012 Emmys. 

Before that happens, however, I would like to play a little game called “What if Lisa Was Solely Responsible For Picking the Nominees.”  Here’s how it works — I looked over and studied the complete list of the shows and performances that have been submitted this year for Emmy consideration.  And then, from that list, I picked my personal nominees.

(A complete list of every show and performer that’s been submitted for Emmy consideration can be found here.)

Below are my personal nominations in the major Emmy categories.  Again, note that these are not necessarily the shows and performers that I believe will be nominated.  Instead, these are the shows and performers that I would nominate if I was solely responsible for picking the nominees.

A complete list of my nominations in every single Emmy category can be found here.  (And yes, there’s a lot of Lifetime on the list.  There’s also a lot of Community.)

Best Comedy Series

Bored to Death (HBO)

Community (NBC)

Girls (HBO)

It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia (FX)

Parks and Recreation (NBC)

Raising Hope (Fox)

Veep (HBO)

Best Drama Series

Boardwalk Empire (HBO)

Breaking Bad (AMC)

The Client List (Lifetime)

Downton Abbey (PBS)

Game of Thrones (HBO)

Homeland (Showtime)

Pan Am (ABC)

Ringer (The CW)

True Blood (HBO)

The Walking Dead (AMC)

Outstanding Miniseries or Movie

Blue-Eyed Butcher (Lifetime)

Cyberbully (ABC Family)

Drew Peterson: Untouchable (Lifetime)

Five (Lifetime)

Girl Fight (Lifetime)

Hatfields & McCoys (History Channel)

The Hour (BBC America)

Of Two Minds (Lifetime)

Outstanding Variety Series

Conan (TBS)

Fashion Police (E)

Key and Peele (Comedy Central)

The Soup (E)

Tosh .O (Comedy Central)

Outstanding Variety Special

Betty White’s 90th Birthday Party (NBC)

Celtic Women: Believe (PBS)

The Comedy Central Roast of Charlie Sheen (Comedy Central)

TV Land Awards (TV Land)

Wendy Liebman: Taller on TV (Showtime)

Outstanding Nonfiction Special

Bobby Fischer Against The World (HBO)

Catholicism: Amazed and Afraid (PBS)

Crime After Crime (OWN)

God Is The Bigger Elvis (HBO)

6 Days To Air: The Making of South Park (Comedy Central)

Outstanding Nonfiction Series

America in Primetime (PBS)

American Masters (PBS)

America’s Most Wanted (Lifetime)

Beyond Scared Straight (A&E)

Inside Story (Biography)

Outstanding Reality Program

Antiques Roadshow (PBS)

Dance Moms (Lifetime)

Kitchen Nightmares (Fox)

Scouted (E)

Storage Wars (A&E)

Outstanding Reality-Competition Program

The Amazing Race (CBS)

The Bachelor (ABC)

Big Brother (CBS)

The Celebrity Apprentice (NBC)

Hell’s Kitchen (Fox)

Project Runway (Lifetime)

So You Think You Can Dance (Fox)

Survivor (CBS)

Outstanding Lead Actor In A Comedy Series

Larry David in Curb Your Enthusiasm (HBO)

Johnny Galecki in The Big Bang Theory (CBS)

Danny McBride in Eastbound and Down (HBO)

Joel McHale in Community (NBC)

Lucas Neff in Raising Hope (Fox)

Jason Schwartzman in Bored To Death (HBO)

Outstanding Lead Actor In A Drama

Steve Buscemi in Boardwalk Empire (HBO)

Bryan Cranston in Breaking Bad (AMC)

Jeffrey Donavon in Burn Notice (USA)

Damian Lewis in Homeland (Showtime)

Andrew Lincoln in The Walking Dead (AMC)

Timothy Olyphant in Justified (FX)

Outstanding Lead Actor In A Miniseries or Movie

Idris Elba in Luther (BBC America)

Rob Lowe in Drew Peterson: Untouchable (Lifetime)

Steven Weber in Duke (Hallmark Movie Channel)

Dominic West in The Hour (BBC America)

Ben Whishaw in The Hour (BBC America)

Outstanding Lead Actress In A Comedy

Zooey Deschanel in New Girl (Fox)

Lena Dunham in Girls (HBO)

Tina Fey in 30 Rock  (NBC)

Julia Louis Dreyfuss in Veep (HBO)

Mary-Louis Parker in Weeds (Showtime)

Martha Plimpton in Raising Hope (Fox)

Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama

Claire Danes in Homeland (Showtime)

Sarah Michelle Gellar in Ringer (The CW)

Jennifer Love Hewitt in The Client List (Lifetime)

Julianna Margulies in The Good Wife (CBS)

Elizabeth McGovern in Downton Abbey (PBS)

Anna Paquin in True Blood (HBO)

Outstanding Lead Actress In A Miniseries or Movie

Kristin Davis in Of Two Minds (Lifetime)

Anne Heche in Girl Fight (Lifetime)

Rose McGowan in The Pastor’s Wife (Lifetime)

Emily Osment in Cyberbully (ABC Family)

Sara Paxton in Blue Eyed Butcher (Lifetime)

Outstanding Supporting Actor In A Comedy Series

Charlie Day in It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia (FX)

Danny DeVito in It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia (FX)

Donald Glover in Community (NBC)

Nick Offerman in Parks and Recreation (NBC)

Danny Pudi in Community (NBC)

Matt Walsh in Veep (HBO)

Outstanding Supporting Actor In A Drama

Bruce Campbell in Burn Notice (USA)

Peter Dinklage in Game of Thrones (HBO)

Giancarlo Espositto in Breaking Bad (AMC)

Michael Pitt in Boardwalk Empire (HBO)

Michael Shannon in Boardwalk Empire (HBO)

Alexander Skarsgard in True Blood (HBO)

Outstanding Supporting Actor In A Miniseries or Movie

Powers Boothe in Hatfields and McCoys (History Channel)

Justin Bruening in Blue-Eyed Butcher (Lifetime)

Mark-Paul Gosselaar in Hide (TNT)

Sir Roger Moore in A Princess For Christmas (Hallmark Movie Channel)

Tony Shalhoub in Five (Lifetime)

Outstanding Supporting Actress In A Comedy

Alison Brie in Community (NBC)

Kristen Chenoweth in GCB (ABC)

Anna Chlumsky in Veep (HBO)

Gillian Jacobs in Community (NBC)

Cloris Leachman in Raising Hope (Fox)

Aubrey Plaza in Parks and Recreation (NBC)

Outstanding Supporting Actress in Drama

Christine Baranski in The Good Wife (CBS)

Kristen Bauer Von Straten in True Blood (HBO)

Kelly MacDonald in Boardwalk Empire (HBO)

Christina Ricci in Pan Am (ABC)

Sophia Turner in Game of Thrones (HBO)

Deborah Ann Woll in True Blood (HBO)

Supporting Actress In A Miniseries or Movie

Tammy Blanchard in Of Two Minds (Lifetime)

Kaley Cuoco in Drew Peterson: Untouchable (Lifetime)

Lisa Edelstein in Blue-Eyed Butcher (Lifetime)

Jessica Lange in American Horror Story (FX)

Jena Malone in Hatfields and McCoy (History Channel)

Lisa Marie Finally Gets Around To Reviewing Cedar Rapids (dir. by Miguel Arteta)


So, in my review of The Beaver, I talked about the annual Hollywood Black List and how the movies that are always listed at the top of the black list usually turn out to be vaguely disappointing.  Well, in that review, I failed to mention that The Beaver was not the only Black List film that I’ve seen (so far) in 2011.  A few months ago, I saw the film that topped last year’s list, Cedar Rapids(The Cedar Rapids screenplay, by the way, was written by Phil Johnston.)

Now, Cedar Rapids (which is scheduled to be released on DVD in June) actually had a pretty good run down in here in Dallas.  Unlike Austin, Dallas is not a film-crazed city and — with only four theaters currently specializing in indie and art films — it’s usually a case of “you snooze, you lose” when it comes to seeing anything out of the mainstream.  We’ll have a few hundred theaters all showing something like Avatar for half a year but a film like James Gunn’s Super will usually sneak in, play in one theater for two weeks, and then just as quickly vanish.

Cedar Rapids, however, stuck around for about a month and a half, playing exclusively at the Dallas Angelika.  It took me a while to actually find the time to go see it (and, perhaps because of the whole Black List thing, I just didn’t feel much enthusiasm for seeing it) and, in fact, I ended up seeing it the last day it played at the Angelika. 

As for why I wanted to see it — well, it had gotten some very positive reviews from critics who traditionally don’t give comedies good reviews so that piqued my interest.  I knew that the film featured three of my favorite character actors — John C. Reilly, Stephen Root, and Thomas Lennon.  The film was also being touted as a comeback for Anne Heche whose autobiography Call Me Crazy was a favorite book of a former roommate of mine.  Finally, I wanted to see the film because it starred Ed Helms, who, at the time, I thought seriously might end up as the new boss on The Office.

Helms, in case you don’t know for some reason, plays Cornell graduate Andy Bernard on The Office.  When he first appeared during the show’s third season, he was portrayed as an incredibly obnoxious preppy with an anger management problem and I loved how Helms so thoroughly threw himself into making Andy just the most annoying human being ever.  Andy was eventually sent to anger management classes and, upon returning, the character has become less obnoxious and just more buffoonish and, in my opinion, a lot less entertaining.  As well, with Jim and Pam now safely married, Andy ended up as the focus of some of the Office’s weakest episodes.  In fact, Andy was the center of so many episodes earlier this season that I found myself wondering if the show’s producers weren’t perhaps trying to see how the audience would react to Ed Helms becoming the new star of the show.  Since I had mixed feelings about that prospect, I felt that maybe Cedar Rapids would provide me with an answer.

In Cedar Rapids, Ed Helms plays Tim Lippe, an almost impossibly innocent insurance agent who is sent by his boss (Stephen Root, who appears to be the go-to guy when you need someone to play a friendly but vaguely threatening manager) to a regional conference in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.  Tim is ordered to conduct himself well, to go out of his way to impress the conference president (Kurtwood Smith), and to win the prestigious “Two Diamonds” Award.  (The award has been won for the company in the past by Helms’ rival at the company who, at the beginning of the film, accidentally kills himself while practicing autoerotic asphyxiation.  The rival is played by Thomas Lennon and I’m kinda sorry that Lennon didn’t have more scenes because seriously, he always makes me smile.)

After saying goodbye to his much older girlfriend (Sigourney Weaver, who is wasted in her cameo), Helms heads off for Cedar Rapids.  This is a big deal for him because he’s the type of movie innocent who has never even been on a plane before.  Helms arrives at Cedar Rapids determined to do the right thing but he soon discovers that he is rooming with Dean Ziegler (John C. Reilly), a loud, crude, and cynical agent who indulges in every vice that Helms has been ordered to avoid.  Needless to say, Helms initially tries to resist being drawn into Reilly’s orbit but soon, he finds himself being corrupted and enjoying it.  Through Reilly, he meets yet another insurance agent (played by Anne Heche) that he soon finds himself falling in lust with.  All this happens, of course, under the disapproving eye of Kurtwood Smith and Helms soon learns just how far he is expected to go to win that Two Diamonds Award…

As it might be obvious from the above description, Cedar Rapids is one of those films that attempts to be both a wild comedy and a poignant coming-of-age drama.  And it succeeds very well at being a comedy and it does pretty good job of being a drama but it never manages to do both at the same time.  The end result is an entertaining but wildly uneven film that never feels like it’s quite as good as it should be. 

The film is at it’s best when it’s just Helms, Reilly, Heche, and Isiah Whitlock, Jr. (playing another insurance agent) hanging out and BSing.  Those scenes ring well and all four of these actors have a real ensemble chemistry together.  You really do end up believing that Reilly, Heche, and Whitlock truly do care about their new friend and you just as strongly believe that Helms really is falling in love with Heche.  These are the best scenes in the movie. 

The film is less effective when it tries to be something more than just an ensemble comedy.  It’s in these scenes — with Kurtwood Smith quoting bible verses and the Two Diamonds Award becoming a metaphor for all sorts of things — that the film gets heavy-handed and a bit boring.  I also have a feeling that these scenes are probably the reason why so many Hollywood readers went nuts of the Cedar Rapids screenplay because these scenes are the least challenging in the film.  These are the scenes that pat you on the back for watching the movie.  Anyone who has ever seen a movie knows that Kurtwood Smith’s character is going to turn out to be a hypocrite because when was the last time that you see a movie in which the guy who talked about Jesus didn’t turn out to be a hypocrite?  Therefore, it’s kinda hard to buy into Helms’s shock when he discovers that Smith isn’t all that he’s cracked up to be.  I mean, I can force myself to buy that the Helms character has never been on a plane before but my God, has he never seen a movie or an episode of Law and Order before either?  Seriously, the character isn’t a Mennonite.  He’s just from the midwest.

In the lead role, Ed Helms is a lot like the movie.  He’s great when he’s just a member of the ensemble but sometimes seems to struggle a bit in the more dramatic scenes.  To a large extent, the problem is that the film goes so out of it’s way to present Helms as being some sort of man-child that it’s hard to take him seriously once he suddenly starts to think for himself.  As I previously stated, the supporting cast is uniformly strong.  Reilly is a drunken, foul-mouthed force of nature while Heche steals every scene that she’s in and, in the end, proves herself to really be the heart and soul of the film.

So, in the end, I guess I would say that Cedar Rapids, as uneven and as frustrating as it occasionally turned out to be, is worth seeing once it comes out on DVD in June.