Cedar Rapids

The Iowa Film Commission must have one hell of a public relations staff, because how else do you explain the fascination Hollywood has for making movies there? I’m guessing that when studio executives are pitched a story involving a location that is neither east nor west coast based, they kind of wave their hands vaguely and settle on Iowa because they can’t name any other states that are in the middle of the country. And that Field of Dreams tagline about this not being heaven doesn’t hurt, either. But I’m not sure if Iowa should really consider all this attention a good thing. In the list of films that have featured the state, some of the topics covered are aliens (Starman), tornadoes (Twister), kiddy-cult murderers (Children of the Corn), more aliens, this time as slugs (The PuppetMasters), covered bridges/infidelity (The Bridges of Madison County), dying of cancer (Terms of Endearment) and the main export of Iowa, meth (Iowa). And I’m not even going to get into Zadar, Cow from Hell, although I am planning on streaming it from Netflicks tomorrow.

Adding to that list is a new film called Cedar Rapids, in which the second largest city in Iowa is exposed for the hell hole that it is – pool sex, death by autoerotic asphyxia and scavenger hunts! At least that’s how it appears to naive Tim Lippe, an innocent insurance agent who truly believes that his profession is a dream job where reluctant heroes are made. Tim is played by Ed Helms (from The Office) and the film is peppered with other TV actors who look vaguely familiar and give the whole movie a comfortable, lived-in feel, as if you turned on an old sitcom in the middle of an episode and watched even though you didn’t know what was going on. Isiah Whitlock Jr. from The Wire shows up as a character obsessed with The Wire, and there’s even a brief appearance by the former Maeby Funke of Arrested Development. I’m afraid Maeby may be too grown up now to play Maeby if they ever get around to making that movie.

They won’t be running this one in their commercials to encourage tourism in Iowa – the state looks flat and charmless, the palette full of browns and ochres and ugly plaids, like the family room in the Brady household. No cause to worry about any shaky shots here – everything is locked down and straight forward, as if the God-fearing conservatives running the insurance convention that Tim attends had their hands on the cameras and were determined that nothing would end up on YouTube. But the dreariness of the hotel and insurance attendees is part of the joke, because to Tim it’s the most exciting thing that’s ever happened to him. With John C. Reilly on hand to supply most of the bathroom humor, the film teeters on the edge of becoming The Hangover 2.0. But it’s Tim’s belief in his profession, his co-workers and ultimately his customers that keeps the movie on the sweet side, and almost makes me want to hang out with insurance salesmen and talk about term vs life. Almost. Okay, that’s a lie. I would never want to do that.

Barf Bag rating: ZERO BAGS Gee, we haven’t had a good four-bagger since The Fighter. Has Hollywood cooled on its romance with the hand-held camera? I hope not – I’ll have to change my entire website. I could try flicksthatmakemeticked, which would be movies that make me angry; or flicksthathaveamick, a site devoted entirely to Irish actors. Maybe not – that one is sort of racist. No, I think I’ll go with flicksthathaveawick, which will be a tribute to John Glenn in The Right Stuff. Or it might involve gay porn. One of the two. Haven’t decided yet.

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