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Tim Lippe (Helms) was the guy people always thought would go places but then he just ... didn't. He's been living in über-sleepy Brown Valley, Wisconsin his whole life, still "pre-engaged" to his 7th grade teacher Macy Vanderhei (Weaver), while selling insurance to protect other people's dreams. But now, Tim's stalled life is about to get a kick-start because, for the first time in his 34 years, he's headed to a "major" metropolis - Cedar Rapids, Iowa - where he must try to save his company at a do-or-die insurance convention that, for him, will be entirely unconventional. From the minute he checks into his hotel with his ancient American Tourister and cummerbund money belt, it's clear Tim has no idea how the modern world really works. He is soon smitten with seductive Nebraskan insurance agent Joan Ostrowski-Fox (Heche) and awed by his experienced roommates, the straight-shooting Ronald Wilkes (Whitlock Jr.) and the suspicious Dean Zeigler (Reilly). Disheartened when he comes ... Written by
Fox Searchlight Pictures
Following the success of THE HANGOVER, Ed Helms has officially risen to leading man status. Granted it's only an independent film and I'm not even sure it got any sort of nationwide release, but you've got to start somewhere. CEDAR RAPIDS is a quirky comedy with a handful of dark elements and, while it has a fair share of laughs, it's pretty tame. Helms is insurance salesman Tim Lippe, an awkward man who never amounted to much. He often fades into the background in the shadow of superior salesman Roger Lemke, and his only real relationship is the on-going fling with his former grade school teacher. After an unfortunate incident means Lemke won't be able to represent Brownstar Insurance at the upcoming ASMI conference in Cedar Rapids, it's left up to Tim to try and win the coveted Two Diamonds award for the the third year in a row. It won't be easy: Tim's never been outside his hometown of Brown Valley, WI and he's socially incompetent. As if he doesn't have it rough enough, he finds himself mixed up with the likes of notorious wild-man and rumored "poacher", Dean Ziegler.
With the exception of a pretty dark final 30 minutes where Helms' Lippe hits rock bottom, the film is pretty light. If it weren't for a good amount of vulgar humor (mostly from John C. Reilly's Ziegler), this film probably would've fallen to a PG-13 rating. A lot of the laughs come from Lippe's wide-eyed wonder at the real world and Ziegler's drunken antics. The gags in the film never really amount to more than a few chuckles, even when Helms loses his mind. It's a fun enough story with Lippe trying his darnedest to represent Brownstar in an honest fashion and finding out how even an institution like his beloved ASMI isn't impervious to the corruption of the world. Unfortunately, chuckles are about all the film amounts to. For a film billed as a comedy, there aren't a whole lot of "laugh out loud" moments. It's a shame too because the pairing of Helms and Reilly is a promising one. The film's quirkiness takes center stage with corny jokes and nicknames taking center stage over any real jokes. Amusing, yes. Is it a film I'll be hyping up to my friends? Probably not.
Helms is a great straight-man. He's already got the look of a respectable man, so all he needs to do is freak out (at which he excels) in strange circumstances and he can usually get a laugh (see any scene of his in THE HANGOVER). Here, he's the ultimate straight-man and he plays innocent well. Reilly's Ziegler is his polar opposite, boisterous, often drunk, and at constant odds with ASMI headman Orin Helgesson (Kurtwood Smith). Reilly's a comedic heavyweight and gets most of the best laughs in the film and manages to balance a bit of a empathetic human side to his party animal. Rounding out the main cast are Anne Heche as feisty Joan Ostrowski-Fox and Isiah Whitlock Jr. as Ron Wilkes. Heche makes an for a hot red-head and her character treats every ASMI convention in Cedar Rapids like a trip to Vegas ("What happens in Cedar Rapids, stays in Cedar Rapids.") and Whitlock's Wilkes is the voice of reason amongst the group. Some great chemistry amongst the cast here but the film's just a little too tame, relying on minor chuckles instead of any real laughs. Or as Ronald Wilkes might put it, this film is N.T.S. In this case, "not that special."
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