February 23, 2011

Crack-Enhanced Bad Situations

An endless swath of highways connects Cedar Rapids to Duets.

By Robb Witmer Full 

Watching this, it felt as though I was really inside Duets, the Gwyneth Paltrow/Huey Lewis karaoke classic. Like when you're in a dream, and you know that you are in a specific place, regardless of the fact that it bears no real resemblance.

Both movies occupy the same universe, the one where the American Midwest is an endless swath of highways connecting hotel bars and crack-houses. The characters' lives in both movies are centered around those bars, and making something of themselves inside of them.

The life of a Midwesterner seems pretty lame to Big City Folk, and that of Midwestern insurance salespeople doubly so. But everybody's got to get their kicks somewhere, and for working types, that's what conventions are for.

In Duets, the prize was the Karaoke Championship. The NATIONAL Karaoke Championship. (One must assume this is a title sanctioned by the U.S. Karaoke Association.) What the characters are really after in that movie is a chance to be a star, even if it's only in front of a few dozen people.

The coveted Two Diamond Award is at the center of Cedar Rapids, but like the National Karaoke Championship, the ESPY's – or, the Oscars, frankly – it is an award that doesn't have a lot of meaning outside of the room it's presented in.

For the insurance sales representatives, the ASMI (?) convention is their yearly chance to party like they used to at state universities and branch campuses. Sleeping around, doing shots, acting like they're some sort of big-shot back home.

There's also always a chance you hang out with the wrong prostitute and get caught up in some crack-enhanced Bad Situations, but that's just part of the territory, a hazing for rookies. This kind of stuff is what the convention/hotel business was built on; Vegas exists because of it.

Cedar Rapids doesn't take nearly as many chances as Duets – not that there are many movies that do or should – but sometimes the safer choices are the right ones.

Of course, in both movies we have characters fall into heavy-duty drug benders that they have no business dealing with, but Cedar Rapids never falls into the Outrageous-Comedy trap, even when it could have easily become just another John C. Reilly-playing-a-dumbass movie.

There's enough of those, or at least there will be eventually. What if the point is to make a grown-up comedy about fucking around? We could probably use a few more of those.

Robb Witmer Full is the National Karaoke Championships correspondent for America-Thrust.