Movie Reviews: Cedar Rapids (***1/2), Hall Pass (**), Drive Angry (*)

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CEDAR RAPIDS.  87 mins.  R.  Directed by Miguel Arteta.  Written by Phil Johnson.
Though he didn't write or direct it, the new comedy Cedar Rapids bears the distinct imprint of producer Alexander Payne.  He's the guy behind Election, About Schmidt, and Sideways, and like those movies, Cedar Rapids excels at mining comedic truths out of the mundane.  Ed Helms (The Hangover, The Office) stars as Tim Lippe, a small-town insurance rep who heads to a hotel convention in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.  There, he meets a group of other insurance reps, who (literally) strip away his tightly wound exterior and teach him how to live.  The hotel they stay at is instantly recognizable to any viewer - you've stayed at this kind of hotel.  I've stayed there.  It's that kind of recognition, coupled with the small details that makes this movie work.  
This is writer Phil Johnson's first produced script and he juggles the dualing sweet yet profane elements quite handily - he's off to a promising start.  Helms makes for a solid leading man, turning in a slight variation on his previous on-screen roles, but the movie's hidden ace-up-its-sleeve is John C. Reilly as the slightly unhinged Dean Ziegler.  Reilly has been funny before in movies like Step Brothers and Talladega Nights, so this should come as no surprise, but he really is on fire here.  It's a go-for-broke performance that elicited a solid handful of laugh-out-loud moments.  Anne Heche lends sexy support and character actor Isiah Whitlock Jr. ("Sheeeeeeee-it") gets big laughs out of a couple references to HBO's The Wire (a show the actor actually appeared on).  Cedar Rapids may be short and slight, but, in what is increasingly rare in big screen comedies these days, it's truly funny.  ***1/2 stars.
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HALL PASS.  105 mins.  R.  Directed by Peter & Bobby Farrelly.  Written by Peter & Bobby Farrelly & Pete Jones & Kevin Barnett.
So much for a comeback.  After the 1-2-3 punch of Dumb and Dumber, Kingpin, and There's Something About Mary, the Farrelly Brothers have struggled to find their footing in Hollywood.  Their latest film promises to be a throwback to the golden era of Farrelly-dom, but really, it's just a sad, soggy comedy vehicle that creaks toward the finish line and buckles under the weight of its clunky premise.  Owen Wilson and Jason Sudeikis play two horny married men who want more sex than they're getting.  Their underwritten wives, played by the talented Christina Applegate and Jenna Fischer, give them a "hall pass" - a week off from marriage.  The two learn some life lessons about love and marriage, but not before some good old-fashioned gross-out gags splash across the screen, and in the case of the movie's most effective bit (involving a sneeze and an uncontrollable bowel movement), across the back of a bathtub.  There's not much to laugh at in Hall Pass.  Wilson and Sudeikis are miscast and fail to enliven the deadweight material.  I'm not sure any other two actors would have had better luck though.  Not even the great Richard Jenkins (in a cameo) can save this turd.  
** stars.
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DRIVE ANGRY.  104 mins.  R.  Directed by Patrick Lussier.  Written by Todd Farmer & Patrick Lussier.
Nicolas Cage needs an intervention.  How many bad movies can one actor make before he's rendered totally irrelevant and laughable?  Some would say Cage is there already.  Hard to disagree - you can't make Season of the Witch and Drive Angry less than two months apart and expect to escape unscathed.  I pretty much hated Drive Angry.  Presented in 3D, and as the ads are quick to point out, "shot in 3D," this is yet another attempt to cash in on the '70s grindhouse flicks that Tarentino and Rodriguez aped so admirably back in '07 with Death Proof and Planet Terror.  But Drive Angry pales in comparison because it's not funny and lacks any sense of guilty pleasure.  Cage treats the material deadly seriously, which is odd considering he plays a guy released from hell to hunt down and kill his daughter's murderer (Billy Burke).  There's a lot of bloodshed and driving, and Amber Heard wears really short skirts.  I guess a certain audience segment will appreciate those facts, but there's nothing clever or creative or fun about Drive Angry.  It's an empty exercise in nostalgia that tries to mimic classic B-movies without ever really understanding what made those movies so great.  This was never going to be a classic, but audiences deserve better, and they certainly shouldn't have to pay $3 extra dollars to see such crap in 3D.  Drive Angry?  Nah, just drive away. Anywhere, as long as it's away from this movie.  * star.

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