Horror & Hijinks

Sci-fi warfare & insuring a few good laughs

Ed Helms sells Cedar Rapids

Sci-fi warfare & insuring a few good laughs

Battle: Los Angeles  ★★Directed by Jonathan LiebesmanStarring Aaron Eckhart, Ramon Rodriguez & Cory HardrictPG-13 – 116 minutesContinues at the Odeon and SilverCity

There have been lots of apocalyptic, Earth-threatening flicks over the years, from Independence Day to War of the Worlds. The latest entry in this parade of potboilers is Battle: Los Angeles, which is very much a war movie but one where a plucky band of marines does battle with an invading force of extraterrestrials that has landed off the coast of L.A. and is definitely not here for the surfing.

Leading the charge is Staff Sergeant Michael Nantz (Aaron Eckhart), a noble warrior who is in the middle of resigning his post because on his last tour in Iraq he lost a bunch of men under his command and many people blame him (including himself). He is put in with a squad of newbie marines and tasked with getting to a police station to rescue several civilians who have holed up there.

What follows is pretty much what you’d expect, with lots of firefights en route to the cop shop. The soldiers, too, are standard issue in a multi-cultural way, with a plucky Hispanic lieutenant, a refined black guy, a working class white guy, etc. (But don’t get too attached, as there’s a big body count by the end.) Of course, once they reach the civilians their troubles have only started — not least because the invaders have just unrolled some deadly drone aircraft and there won’t be a helicopter rescue as planned.

The action goes on and on from there, involving hotwiring a bus and later dashing on foot, all the while blasting away with automatic weapons and taking some serious casualties.

The director was clearly inspired by Black Hawk Down, from the hand-held camerawork to the mad scrambles while taking fire; but he’s no Ridley Scott and all the special effects in Hollywood can’t redeem the clichéd dialogue – most of which is SHOUTED UNNECESSARILY.

Although much better than last year’s similar Skyline — which truly was a Technicolor turd — Battle is nothing more than vaguely passable entertainment that won’t win many hearts or minds. M

Cedar Rapids  ★★★Directed by Miguel ArtetaStarring Ed Helms, John C. Reilly and Anne HecheR – 96 minutesContinues at the Odeon

The “warfare” is decidedly droll in Cedar Rapids, which focuses on a regional sales competition in the low-stakes world of insurance. The appealingly dorky hero is Tim Lippe (Ed Helms, The Hangover), an excruciatingly naive fellow who acts like an overgrown boy scout and whose career as an insurance agent — and his life in general — has most definitely stalled. Loved by his clients, but ignored by his boss, this guy who has never once left his tiny hometown is unexpectedly thrown into the (semi) big leagues when circumstances dictate that he has to travel to the semi-bustling metropolis of Cedar Rapids. Poor hapless Tim has been asked to continue his branch office’s winning streak by making the sales presentation at an annual convention.

Nervous but also tickled pink, Tim takes his first-ever jet flight and arrives at the host hotel. A strict teetotaler whose fashion sense runs to blandly out-of-date sweaters, Tim falls in with a trio of convention veterans who quickly turn his world upside down. His two roommates are a genial black man named Ronald (Isiah Whitlock Jr., The Wire) and the crassly profane Dean (John C. Reilly), whose filthy jokes and party-animal spirit are at odds with the superficially “Christian” ethos imposed by the organization’s president (destined, of course, to be exposed as a hypocrite). His third partner in crime is the sexy and vibrant Joan (Anne Heche), who uses these conventions as a chance to leave family life behind once a year and go wild. Let’s just say that the repressed Tim has a steep learning curve ahead of him.

Cedar is almost two movies in one. Its protagonist is gently old-fashioned and the circumstances he finds himself in are like something out of a family movie from the early 1960s. But there is a strong current of contemporary vulgarity running through the movie, from Dean’s shockingly crude comments to a recurring theme involving autoerotic asphyxiation. Happily, most of this edgy humour is both well written and delivered by talented actors. Not to all tastes to be sure, Cedar is nonetheless quirky, cute and worth a visit. M

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