Film Review: Vacation (dir by Jonathan Goldstein and John Francis Daley)


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Oh, what sweet Hell is this?

I have definitely seen worse movies than Vacation but it’s hard to think of one that left me as annoyed.  As I watched this movie, I found myself wondering how anyone could have made as many wrong decisions while directing one comedy.  Then I remembered that this film had two directors and I was left even more annoyed.  Seriously, couldn’t one of these two credited directors look at the footage and say, “Wow, we’re making a really crappy, unfunny, and mean-spirited comedy.  Maybe we should reconsider the tone of some of these scenes.  Maybe we should just abandon this all together…”

This film is a reboot of the old Vacation movies that Chevy Chase used to make in the 80s and 90s.  (Christmas Vacation is the one that everyone loves but there were others as well.)  In the original Vacation movies, Chase played Clark Griswold.  Clark would always try to take his family on the perfect vacation and would slowly lose his mind as his best laid plans always crashed into a wall of chaotic reality.  The original Vacation films were all uneven but likable, largely because Clark seemed to be so sincere in his madness.

In Vacation, Ed Helms plays Clark’s son, Rusty Griswold.  Rusty is all grown up and living in the suburbs.  He has a job as a pilot for a cheap airline.  He’s married to Debbie (Christina Applegate), who was known as Debbie Do Anything in college.  He has two sons and they’re both annoying.  James (Skyler Gisondo) is overly sensitive and plays guitar.  Kevin (Steele Stebbins) is a psychopath who is constantly bullying his older brother and dropping F-bombs every chance he gets.  (A little kid saying “Fuck,” is only funny the first few times you hear it.  After the 20th time, it just gets boring.)  James sings self-pitying songs.  Kevin continually tries to murder his brother by putting a plastic bag over his head.

Rusty wants to take his family to Walley World, the same destination that Clark wanted to visit in the original Vacation.  This involves driving across the country in an Albanian car that’s always on the verge of exploding.  Along the way, they stop off at various locations and have adventures.

And not all of the adventures are bad.  Occasionally, the film is saved by a funny cameo.  Charlie Day shows up as a suicidal river guide and he’s genuinely funny.  You find yourself wishing that he had a bigger role.  And then there’s a scene where Rusty and Debbie attempt to have sex at the Four Corners and are caught by cops from four different states, all of whom promptly start to argue about who has jurisdiction.

But those scenes are the exception.  For the most part, Vacation is just a parade of uninspired scatological humor and missed opportunities.  When Rusty and the family drop in on his sister Audrey (Leslie Mann) and her well-endowed husband, Stone (Chris Hemsworth), Rusty spends a lot of time talking about how Audrey and Stone are politically conservative.  Once they arrive at Audrey’s home, we are shown a picture of Stone hanging out with Charlton Heston but, otherwise, Stone and Rusty’s political differences are never mentioned again.  And don’t get me wrong — I wasn’t particularly looking forward to having to sit through a political argument between Ed Helms and Chris Hemsworth.  But still, why set up a joke if you’re too lazy to include the punch line?

Of course, the main problem is that you just don’t care about these Griswolds.  As characters, they’re all pretty unlikable and therefore, you really don’t care if their vacation is a success or not.  Poor Christina Applegate!  After holding her own against Will Ferrell, Steve Carell, Paul Rudd, and David Koechner in both Anchorman films, she’s given nothing to do here, beyond being the punchline in a few misogynistic jokes about being wild before marrying Rusty.

As weak as all the characters are, Rusty is the main problem.  He can’t handle the fact that his wife has had more sexual partners than he has.  He can’t discipline his youngest demon child.  He has absolutely no good advice to give to his oldest son.  When Rusty drags them across the country to Walley World, it’s not because he wants them to have a good vacation but because he wants to recreate a memory from his childhood.  If Chevy Chase’s Clark was always unhinged but sincere, Rusty Griswold is just an asshole and it’s impossible to care about him.  It doesn’t help that Ed Helms, as talented as he may be, has a neediness to him that can be amazingly off-putting whenever he’s cast in a lead role.  He always seems to be trying way too hard to convince the audience to love him.

Incidentally, Rusty and the family do make time to visit Grandpa Clark.  Chevy Chase looks even worse than he did on Community and it’s all pretty boring.

My advice would be to take a vacation from seeing Vacation.

Vacation Shows That Chris Hemsworth Is Quite Mighty (Red Band)


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Any kid growing up during the 1980’s remembers having seen the original Chevy Chase comedy classic National Lampoon’s Vacation. While subsequent sequels weren’t as memorable as the first film it didn’t diminish just how fun that original one was.

It’s been many, many years since the last Vacation film but now it looks like we have a new one set to release this year. Chevy Chase returns, though it would seem it might be more of a cameo. This latest film in the series looks to focus on Clark Griswold’s oldest son, Rusty, who now yearns to relive the happiest time of his life as a child: the road trip to Wally World,

The trailer looks to up return the raunch in the series with some help from Thor himself, Chris Hemsworth. From looking at the trailer’s payoff it looks like Hemsworth is quite mighty indeed.

Vacation is set to release this July, 31, 2015.

6 More Films That You May Have Missed: Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry, Goon, Headhunters, Jeff Who Lives At Home, The Philly Kid, and Safety Not Guaranteed


Hi there!  Continuing my effort to get caught up, here are six more films that I saw earlier this year but, for whatever reason, had not reviewed yet.

1) Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry (dir by Alison Klayman)

One of my favorite films of 2012 was this revealing documentary about the Chinese artist and activist Ai Weiwei.  Filmed over the course of two years, this film follows Ai as he uses the tools of social media to try to stand up to the oppressive Chinese government.  In the film’s strongest scenes, Ai reveals how the government attempted to cover up the massive destruction of the 2008 Sichuan Earthquake.  For his efforts to give identities to the victims of this natural disaster, Ai is beaten by the police and eventually imprisoned.

Ai WeiWei: Never Sorry is a film that should be seen by anyone who thinks that any greater good can be accomplished by sacrificing personal freedom.

2) Goon (dir by Michael Dowse)

Based on a true story, Goon tells the story of Doug Glatt (played, in a winning performance, by Seann William Scott), a Boston bouncer who joins a minor league hockey team.  Eventually, he gets called up to play in Canada and faces his idol (and new rival) Ross Rhea (played by Liev Schreiber) on the ice.  Along the way, he also romances a hockey groupie (Alison Pill) and befriends a burned out teammate (Marc-Andre Gondrin).

I have to thank Arleigh for suggesting that I see Goon because, otherwise, I probably wouldn’t have given this film a chance.  I don’t know much about sports in general and I know even less about hockey.  (Leonard is our resident hockey expert here at the Shattered Lens.)  However, Goon turned out to be a truly pleasant surprise, a sports film that even someone like me can enjoy.

While the film’s plot may be predictable, director Dowse and his cast tell the story well and they all manage to strike the perfect balance between humor, melodrama, and sentimentality.  Seann William Scott is usually not thought of as being a versatile actor but, on the basis of his performance here, he deserves to be reevaluated.  Williams makes Doug Glatt into a truly likable thug and he and Alison Pill make for a very cute and likable couple.  When you start watching Goon, you know where the journey is going to lead you but that doesn’t make the trip any less enjoyable.

3) Headhunters (dir by Morten Tyldum)

In 2012, one of the best thrillers to be released in America was this import from Norway.  Roger Brown (played by Askel Hennie) is Norway’s most successful corporate headhunter.  Along with having a beautiful wife, Roger also has a mistress and all the other material trappings of wealth.  Despite this, Roger is insecure over only being 5’6 and he deals with his insecurity by pursuing a second, secret career as an art thief.  When Roger discovers that Clas, his latest client, is having an affair with his wife, Roger breaks into Clas’s apartment and steals a valuable painting.  However, it turns out that Clas is not only a trained mercenary but he’s also a psychotic killer and soon, he’s pursuing Roger.

Headhunters is a truly exciting film, one that actually keeps the audience guessing with each twist and turn.  Best of all, the film features a truly memorable lead performance from Askel Hennie.  Playing the type of character who, in the past, would have been played by Klaus Kinski, Henie makes his sleazy character into an odd likable and compelling hero.

4) Jeff, Who Lives At Home (dir by Jay and Mark Duplass)

Jeff (Jason Segal) is a 30 year-old unemployed stoner who lives in his mother’s basement and who spends his day obsessing on the movie Signs and talking about his belief in Destiny.  One day, he gets a phone call from some one asking for “Kevin.”  Jeff reacts by finally leaving his mom’s basement and searching for this mysterious Kevin.  Meanwhile, Jeff’s brother (Ed Helms) is convinced that his wife (Judy Greer) is cheating on him and Jeff’s lonely mom (Susan Sarandon) spends her workday at work getting messages from a secret admirer.

Not much happens in Jeff, Who Lives At Home and the film dares you to get as annoyed with Jeff as everyone else in his family.  However, when taken on its own mellow terms, this is an enjoyable and occasionally even moving film.  It helps if you really like Jason Segal and seriously, who doesn’t?  Susan Sarandon gives a touching performance as well and the filmmakers make excellent use of Helms’ needy persona.

5) The Philly Kid (dir by Jason Connery)

Dillon (Wes Chatham) is a college wrestler who is wrongly convicted for the murder of a police officer.  After spending ten years in prison, Dillon is paroled and returns to his home in Baton Rouge.  Managed by his friend Jake (a manic Devon Sawa), Dillon becomes a cage fighter and ultimately finds himself fighting for his life against corrupt promoters and a crooked cop.

The Philly Kid is a pretty uneven film.  The plot will never surprise you and, halfway through the film, The Philly Kid descends into over-the-top melodrama.  However, both Chatham and Sawa give good performances and, as directed by Jason Connery, the film’s many fight scenes are vivid and exciting to watch.  The film was filmed in Baton Rouge and it makes good use of the Louisiana atmosphere.

The Philly Kid may ultimately just be a genre film but it’s a well-done genre film.

6) Safety Not Guaranteed (dir. by Colin Trevorrow)

Kenneth (Mark Duplass) is the type of person that we’ve all met at some point in our life.  He works as a clerk in a grocery store and spends his time talking about his dead girlfriend and how secret agents are watching his every move.  He also claims to have built a time machine and posts a classified ad where he asks for someone to volunteer to go back in time with him.  The ad is spotted by Jeff (Jake M. Johnson), a smarmy magazine writer in Seattle who travels to Kenneth’s hometown in order to investigate (and, it’s later revealed, track down an ex-girlfriend).  Accompanying the reporter is Darius (played by Aubrey Plaza), a disillusioned intern who has her own reasons for wishing that she could go back into past.  Following Jeff’s orders, Darius approaches and befriends Kenneth by claiming to be interested in his ad.  While the well-meaning but paranoid Kenneth trains her for their trip into past, Darius finds herself falling in love with him…

Safety Not Guaranteed is one of those low-key, sweet natured films that I simply can’t help but love.  The film views it’s damaged characters with a wry compassion and it wraps up its story with one of the best endings of 2012.  Aubrey Plaza is best known for being sarcastic on Parks and Recreation but, with this film, she shows that she’s capable of doing a lot more.

10 Reasons Why I Hated Season 8 Of The Office


(Note: This post originally appeared on my new TV-related blog, What Is Lisa Marie Watching Tonight?)

This has been a truly depressing television season for me and it all comes down to one show.  For seven season, I loved the Office.  Even when it wasn’t at it best, it was still the show that I based my Thursday nights around.  And yet, as I watched the finale of eighth season of The Office last night, I breathed a sigh of relief once it was finally over.  Why?  Because season 8 was not only the worst season of the Office so far but it was also one of the worst seasons of television that I’ve ever sat through. 

Don’t get me wrong.  I knew that this season of The Office (the first without Steve Carell’s iconic Michael Scott) would be a rough one.  However, nothing could have prepared me for just how bad season 8 would become.  Looking back over season 8, it’s a struggle to remember one memorable line or moment that made me laugh out loud.  Instead, most of my memories center around being annoyed that the show that I loved could have possibly become so …. bad.

In the future, I’m going to write a post detailing how I would have handled the first post-Carell season of The Office.  But before I write that post up, I want to take a few moments to highlight 10 reasons why I hated season 8 of the Office.

(And, believe me, it wasn’t easy to narrow it down to just ten…)

1) Andy Bernard

I have to admit that my heart sank a little bit when, during the Season 8 premiere, it was revealed that the show would now center around the character of Andy Bernard.  Even before Steve Carell left the show, I always dreaded any episode that revolved around Andy.  Andy, who started out as such a perfectly annoying villain in season 3, had developed into a rather pathetic and needy character and Andy-centric episodes were usually the weakest of their respective seasons.  It didn’t help that Ed Helms — who is a great character actor — has a tendency to go overboard whenever cast in a lead role.

So, I knew from the start of the season that I wouldn’t be totally happy with Andy Bernard as manager but I had no way of guessing just how much I would eventually come to despise the character.  Whether he was weakly pursuing Erin or cruelly dumping his previous girlfriend twice in one day or failing to sue Robert California for giving his job away to Nellie, Andy proved himself to be just as stupid as Michael Scott but also a hundred times more pathetic.  It was impossible to root for Andy because so many of his problems were of his own creation.  As needy as Andy was as a character, Ed Helms was just as needy as a performer and every time he showed up on-screen, I felt like he was begging me to love him as opposed to giving me a reason to do so.  It didn’t help that the show’s writers devoted three or four episodes to having everyone in the Office basically spend half an hour tellings us that Andy was a great manager and we really should love him.

At the end of last night’s finale, Andy — after being unemployed for the last few episodes — got his job back in the least plausible way imaginable.  Instead of firing Nellie, he gave her a new job and then he flashed that big, toothy grin of his.

Fortunately, for the first time during season 8, he resisted the temptation to break out into song.

2) Nellie

Nellie showed up during the second half of the season and essentially appointed herself as the new manager of the office.  It was a plot development that made no sense and it was hard not to feel like the show’s producers were trying to force the audience to love Tate as much as they did.   

Yes, the writers of The Office love Catherine Tate and maybe the audience would love her to if  Nellie, the character she was playing, had any real reason for existing beyond the fact that the writers wanted to work with Catherine Tate. 

Since Tate had no real reason to be on the show, it was hard not to resent the amount of screentime that was devoted to her.  It’s also hard to look forward to the fact that it appears that she’ll be an even more prominent character during season 9.

3) Robert California

At the start of Season 8, we were informed that Robert California (played by James Spader) had somehow managed to talk his way into being named CEO of Sabre.  We were told that he was a mysterious, charismatic figure who might be a genius.

Instead, he turned out to be just another inconsistent character whose personality changed from episode to episode until finally, he was revealed to be so pathetic that he couldn’t even handle Nellie declaring herself to be the new regional manager.  In his first few appearances, James Spader brought his trademark quirkiness to the role but then, once it became apparent that show’s writers couldn’t be bothered to figure out who Robert California actually was, Spader pretty much gave up on giving a performance.  Instead, he just became a name actor getting paid a lot of money to do not much of anything.

And yet the writers still insisted on trying to convince us that Robert California was an interesting character.  The first half of the season was largely devoted to the character.  We went to his mansion, we met his soon-to-be ex-wife, and we continually found ourselves wondering why the CEO of a Florida-based corporation was spending all of his time in Scranton, Pennsylvania.

Robert California (and James Spader) will not be back for Season 9.  In the final episode, Robert California announced that his latest business venture would involve young women from Eastern Europe.  It was an unfunny end to an unfunny character.

4) Kevin and Erin: Just How Dumb Are They?

This has been an issue for a while but it really became obvious (and annoying) as things got more and more cartoonish during Season 8.  Erin and Kevin both seem to be stupid when the plot calls for it and just dumb when the plot doesn’t.  It wouldn’t be so much of a problem if not for the fact that there’s no logic to their occasional stupidity.  It’s never been firmly established just how stupid either one of them is and, as a result, their inability to understand the simplest of things feels more like lazy writing than anything else.

With Erin, this is an issue because this season was largely built around Andy pursuing her.  For a plot like that to be effective, you have to care about the characters and to care about the characters, you have to see some sort of vague reality in them even when they’re threatening to go over the top.

As for Kevin — well, where to begin?  Remember how, in the earlier seasons, Kevin seemed like he actually had the most active life out of the office of any of the people working there?  He would show up with a jaunty little hat on his head and he would drop hints about being addicted to gambling.  He was even the drummer in not one but two cover bands!

Now, he’s just another moron in the corner.

5) Angela and the Senator

Yes, we get it.  The senator’s gay.  It was funny the first four times that various characters went, “The senator’s gay!” but now, it just feels like a lazy punchline. 

Wouldn’t it have been fun to see Angela and the Senator’s wedding?  Seriously, this is a show that had a tradition of funny wedding episodes but, when given the perfect opputunity,  the show’s writers ignored a chance to showcase one of the strongest members of the original supporting cast.  Instead, Angela (and so many others) were just pushed off to the side so that we could spend more time with Robert California.    

6) What Does Jim Have To Smirk About?

Seriously, the man’s stuck in a rut.

7) When Did Pam Give Up On Being An Artist?

Whenever I watch reruns of The Office, I’m surprised by how much I relate to Pam.  That’s mostly because the Pam of the first few seasons seems to have very little in common with the  Pam of the 7th and 8th seasons.  Do you remember when Pam was an artist and, even more importantly, do you remember how great it was to watch as she finally started standing up for herself and following her dream during the first four seasons?

As I watched this last season, I thought about that wonderfully sweet scene from seasons past when Jim showed Pam the “artist’s studio” that he had set up in the garage.  And I wondered if that art studio was still sitting in the garage, untouched since Pam has apparently decided to give up on her dreams and just spend all of her time obsessing on the people that she works with.

8) What do Ryan and Gabe do all day?

Like seriously. 

9) Val (and others)

Seriously, what was the point of Val’s character this season?  If you’ve watched the entire season, do you know anything about Val beyond the fact that Darryl developed a crush on her?  I didn’t even catch that her name was Val until around her fifth appearance.  Obviously, the show’s writers expected us to take some sort of emotional stake in Darryl’s attempts to woo her but they never bothered to figure out just who exactly Val was meant to be.   

The same can be said, of course, of just about every new character on The Office this season.  Can you remember the name of the woman who Andy dumped so he could (finally) be with Erin?  How about Cathy, the girl who, out of nowhere, tried to seduce Jim and then mysteriously vanished from the show? 

Admittedly, this problem didn’t start with season 8.  Starting back in season 5, the Office developed a bad habit of carefully introducing and then randomly abandoning characters and plotlines.  (Remember Danny, the superhot traveling salesman played by Timothy Olyphant?)   However, it’s never bothered me in the past quite as much as it did during season 8.  Past seasons at least had someone there to anchor the show even when the writers seemed to get distracted.

And that leads me to the tenth reason why I hated season 8 of The Office

 10) No Michael Scott

That, I think, pretty much says it all.

Lisa Marie Defends The Hangover, Part 2 (dir. by Todd Phillips)


Right now, all the little mainstream critics are busy hating on The Hangover, Part II

Check out Christy Lemire from the Associated Press: “Giving the people what they want is one thing. Making nearly the exact same movie a second time, but shifting the setting to Thailand, is just … what, lazy? Arrogant? Maybe a combination of the two” 

And then there’s Roger Ebert (or L’Ebert as the asskissers at Awards Daily used to call him) who apparently took a break from ranting about politics to actually do his job: ‘The Hangover: Part II plays like a challenge to the audience’s capacity for raunchiness. It gets laughs, but some of them are in disbelief.”

Last night, despite not feeling all that great, I went and saw The Hangover, Part II and you know what?  I enjoyed it.  So there.

Yes, The Hangover, Part II is basically the exact same film as The Hangover except now Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms, and Zach Galifianakis awaken from their hangover in Bangkok instead of Las Vegas.  Also, it’s not the groom that’s missing.  It’s the bride’s younger brother.  Oh, and Ed Helms has sex with another prostitute but it’s not Heather Graham.  No, it’s definitely not Heather Graham.

Otherwise, it’s pretty much the exact same film, a copy so exact that a character gets shot at around the exact same time that a different character got shot in the previous film.

But, honestly, so what?  The people paying money to see this film know what they’re getting into when they buy their tickets.  Helms, Galifianakis, and Ken Jeong are still funny in their respective roles, Bradley Cooper is so fucking sexy I don’t even know where to begin, and there’s a cute little monkey in the movie too.  Is it as good or as funny as the first one?  Of course not but did you think it would be?  The film made me laugh and, especially when I’m not feeling well, making me laugh is more than enough to win my heart.

As for the mainstream critics — well, before you take their word for it, just remember that Roger Ebert loved The Conspirator and raved, “Not many films this smart can be made.”  I rest my case.

(By the way, here’s a link to my review of the worst film of the year so far, Robert Redford’s The Conspirator.)

 

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.