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Featured Blu-ray / DVD Review: Cedar Rapids

June 20th, 2011

Cedar Rapids - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray / Digital Copy Combo Pack

It's been a pretty good year for limited releases with several films able to escape their limited roots and grab some measure of mainstream success. Win Win cracked $10 million, which is very rare for a limited release; Cave of Forgotten Dreams has made $4 million, something most documentaries never come close to; while Midnight in Paris is rapidly becoming one of Woody Allen's biggest hits, after topping $20 million over the weekend. One of the year's first limited release success stories was Cedar Rapids. This week it comes out on the home market, but will it find even more success on DVD / Blu-ray?

The Movie

Ed Helms stars as Tim Lippe, an insurance agent at a small company in the midwest. He's lived a pretty sheltered life and has never even left is hometown of Brown Valley. But when the company's star salesman, Roger Lemke, dies in a bizarre accident, it's up to him to go to the American Society of Mutual Insurers and take home the prestigious Two Diamond award. So he's off to the big city, Cedar Rapids, but before he goes, his boss gives him some tips, who to network with, who has the final say awarding the top prize, and who to avoid. The list of people to avoid has just one name on it, Dean Ziegler.

Once in Cedar Rapids, it's clear Tim's naivety could be a problem. Fortunately, he has a roommate, Ronald Wilkes, to help him as a guide. Unfortunately, he has a second roommate... Dean Ziegler. Yes, the one man he was told to avoid. After Tim meets Joan Ostrowski-Fox in the gym, and later at the bar with the guys, the four start hanging out at the conference. His trio of new friends teach him how to live it up at a convention like this. Tim even starts loosening up and enjoying himself, despite the pressure he's under to win the Two Diamonds award. But you know with someone like Tim, it's only a matter of time before he gets in over his head.

Cedar Rapids is a rather simple character study that reaches its potential thanks to a witty script, and an incredibly talented cast. Ed Helms plays Tim Lippe with the right balance of naivety to generate laughs without being mean. It feels real as his world starts to crumble. But it feels equally real that his new friends would help him rise to fix it. John C. Reilly shows once again he has amazing comedic timing, as does Isiah Whitlock in a lot more subdued role. Playing the straight man is a far less showy role, but it's just as important. I was most impressed by Anne Heche, who had the most emotionally meaty role in the film. And there are almost too many great actors in secondary roles to mention (Sigourney Weaver, Stephen Root, Kurtwood Smith, Alia Shawkat, and others).

If there is a problem with the movie, it's with how neatly the film is wrapped up in the end. After all the mess, it takes a sudden turn to take care of it all in a very short time. This is just a minor complaint overall. But I do like how he keeps his optimistic innocence in the end.

The Extras

There are a lot of smaller extras on the DVD, starting with half a dozen deleted scenes and four minutes of outtakes. Mike O'Malley Urban Clogger is a three-minute featurettes with Mike O'Malley, whose character showed off his clogging skilled at the ASMI talent show. Tweaking in the USA is a six-minute behind-the-scene featurette on the meth party scene. Wedding Belles is a four-minute featurette on the scene where the four main characters crash a lesbian wedding. The extras on the DVD end with a commercial for Top Notch Insurance. It's disappointing that there's no audio commentary track, but the overall selection of extras isn't bad.

Blu-ray extras start with Convention Connection, which is a series of interviews with the actors talking about the movie and their characters. There are two Fox Movie Channel Presents featurettes, one with the director and the other with the writer. The Blu-ray is also BD-Live enabled with a short featurette called Ed Helms Mad Chopper Skills, but I don't think it's online yet.

The film's technical presentation on Blu-ray is good, especially considering the film's budget. It was shot digitally and the level of detail is exceptional. Colors can be very bright when called for, but a lot of the scenes have muted colors and the lighting quite dark. Fortunately, these darker scenes don't have details swallowed up by shadows. The audio is as you would expect for a dialogue-driven character-based drama. That is to say, the dialogue is clear, but the track is dominated by the front and center speakers. Don't expect a lot of directional effects here.

The Blu-ray only costs 33% more than the DVD, and it includes exclusives extras and a digital copy. It is definitely the better deal.

The Verdict

Cedar Rapids is one of the better movies from 2011 that I've gotten a chance to review and it is clearly worth buying. The DVD isn't a bad deal, but the Blu-ray / Digital Copy Combo Pack is the better one. Not only is the Blu-ray worth picking up, it's a contender for Pick of the Week.


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