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Cedar Rapids/Paul: Two Comedies About Foul Mouths And Good Intentions

In both Miguel Arteta’s Cedar Rapids and Greg Mottola’s Paul, sweet-natured dorks are taking a once-in-a-lifetime trip when they encounter a foul-mouth rogue who turns their lives upside down. In Cedar Rapids, it takes the form of John C. Reilly at his blowhardy finest, and in Paul, an alien who sounds and acts exactly like Seth Rogen plays the part. Neither film fully lives up to their clever set-ups, primarily because most of the jokes are broad or scatological, but I found myself getting increasingly amused as the films progressed, a sign that the characters and their relationships were engaging me and making me care. These films are enjoyable if somewhat disposable escapist fare.

Tim Lippe (Ed Helms) is headed to Cedar Rapids for the first time in his life. His life has always been contained in his hometown, where he is a sweet loyal insurance salesman for his company and is currently engaged in a sexual relationship with his high school teacher (Sigourney Weaver)– he loves her, but you get the impression she wants to keep things casual. When the top salesman (the always-funny Thomas Lennon) dies of auto-erotic asphyxiation, it’s up to Lippe to represent his boss (Stephen Root) at the big convention where the prestigious Three Diamond award is handed out. He’s told one thing: stay away from Dean Ziegler. He arrives to find he’s rooming with Ronald Wilkes (Isaiah Whitlock Jr.) and… you guessed it, Ziegler (John C. Reilly). Along the way, he befriends a prostitute (Alia Shawkat), falls for a fellow convention attendee (Anne Heche), and tries not to screw up in front of the Three Diamonds president (Kurtwood Smith).

Cedar Rapids is somewhat slow taking off. Like most of Arteta’s films, it’s hard to determine early whether the filmmaker feels for the character or is content is mocking them. Helms plays sweetness effectively, but it can come across a bit broad and shticky. Both Helms and the film settle in once the character gain some dimension. Reilly’s character never travels down the exact road you expect, and Alia Shawkat is strangely bewitching every time she’s on screen (her final line is also the film’s funniest). The film’s laughs are contained to Reilly shouting obscenities for the most part, but a trip Lippe takes with the prostitute is both the darkest and most hysterical part of the film. While having all this talent in one film should have likely resulted in more guffaws, I left with a smile on my face– on the whole, Cedar Rapids insures a good time.

It seemed Paul would be a safe bet for a science-fiction fan like me, as the film was bound to be littered with genre references. We follow two dorky Brits (Simon Pegg and Nick Frost) on a trip to Comicon in San Diego. Afterward, they take a road trip to the most world-renowned UFO sighting locations. On the way, they witness a car crash and discover behind the wheel Paul (Seth Rogen), an alien with a foul mouth who has a penchant for weed and nudity. Along the way, they pick up Ruth (Kristen Wiig), a fundamentalist Christian woman with one eye, much to the dismay of her father (John Carroll Lynch). They are also pursued by Agent Zoyle (Jason Bateman) and two local cops (Bill Hader and Joe Lo Truglio), both of whom begin to suspect that Zoyle is in fact looking for an alien.

For the number of hilarious people in this film– including David Koechner and Jane Lynch in small roles– I’m surprised it wasn’t funnier than it was. Mottola’s last two films, Superbad and Adventureland, were such grand slams that this one feels generic by comparison. The key joke, that Paul acts and talks like Seth Rogen, wears kind of thin; there are some good one-liners, but Paul’s antics aren’t what I left the film wanting more of. I thought the countless science fiction references were in good fun, and Hader and Lo Truglio are two actors that literally never fail to be funny in any film they’re in. As the movie wore on, like Cedar Rapids, I began to root harder for the heroes, I enjoyed their antics more– they felt less forced the more I got into the film. Mottola has a gift for creating good buddy repor between characters in all of his films, but I was even more surprised that the action and special effects both worked well here: I was pulled farther into these effects than in Battle: LA or Sucker Punch. Paul the type of movie that wouldn’t convert a skeptic but would please the sci-fi fan looking forward to it. Both Cedar Rapids and Paul never really full reach the blissful heights that you’d expect to encounter with the talent involved, but what you encounter with both comes close enough to make each worthwhile.

Both films:

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~ by russellhainline on March 29, 2011.

One Response to “Cedar Rapids/Paul: Two Comedies About Foul Mouths And Good Intentions”

  1. I felt the same about Paul. It was ‘nice’ but you would have certainly anticipated more. I liked the “chase film” vibe that we got every time people had to hop back into their vehicles. Hader and Truglio were the film’s most enjoyable components. Wish there were more jokes like the Country Bar/SW Catina scene.

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