Helms Braves ‘Cedar Rapids’

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Ed Helms in 'Cedar Rapids'

“That was awesome. Super awesome.”

Starring Ed Helms, John C. Reilly, Anna Heche, Isiah Whitlock, Jr., Stephen Root, Sigourney Weaver and Kurtwood Smith. Directed by Miguel Arteta

Meet Tim Lippe (pronounced lip-ee). Lippe is as mild-mannered and squeaky-clean as they come – no alcohol, no drugs, no cursing, etc. He’s an insurance salesman for BrownStar Insurance in Brown Valley, Wisconsin. He lives alone in a small but nice house and his girlfriend is former teacher Macy Vanderhei (Weaver) who comes over once a week for sex. Tim exists in the small bubble of his comfort zone: has good relations with his clientele, he’s never been outside of the small town he’s lived in all his life, he’s happy and nothing challenges him except superstar salesman Roger Lemke (Thomas Lennon).

Lemke is the catalyst for everything that happens next for Lippe but for a moment let’s discuss him. This guy has brought “home” three Double Diamond awards. These are awards of excellence bestowed upon by the ASMI for character, integrity, virtue… basically, the “Oscars” for MidWestern insurance. With these Limke is highly sought-after and his reputation is impeccable. Lippe can only wish to be like Lemke.

And that wish is granted – Lemke is found dead after suffocation from a weird sexual fetish (aka autoerotic asphyxiation). This throws the small town’s insurance world into a loop because Lemke was insurance salesman bar none. Now his duties fall to Lippe who has to fly to Cedar Rapids, give Lemke’s presentation, and bring back the Double Diamond award. Or else.

Arriving at the airport for the commuter flight we see how “fish out of water” Lippe is – he doesn’t know anything about airline security. His boss Bill Krogstad (Root) stops him before boarding to give him some advice which includes “do not have any contact with Dean Ziegler.” Lippe boards the plane and steps off in Cedar Rapids, a “big metropolis” compared to anything that he’s ever known. He instantly meets a prostitute named Bree (Alia Shawkat) as well as his roommates, fellow insurance salesmen Ron Wilkes (Whitlock) and hard-partying Dean Ziegler (John C. Reilly). While working out in the gym he meets the last of his future friends, Joan Ostrowski-Fox (Heche). And finally he meets the MC of the ASMI, Orin Helgesson (Smith) who is trying to keep up pretenses by showing that the ASMI is a “God worthy” as well as a faith-based insurance business.

What begins as a trip to “just give a presentation, get the award, and go home” becomes a gauntlet “rite of passage” for Tim. While it starts with prayer at a group meeting’s breakfast quickly escalates to drinking, sex, bribery and drug use. Bit-by-bit Lippe’s inhibitions are stripped away as he plunges headfirst into what he’s never experienced before. And he faces the consequences: his job is threatened by a petition signed by others to “take back” BrownStar’s Double Diamonds (due to Lippe’s indiscretions), his boss is threatening to fire him if he continues screwing up and doesn’t bring home this year’s Double Diamond, and he feels like he cheated on Macy.

I enjoyed this movie a great deal – this type of movie, if there is such, is needed. In a movie season (winter) where little if anything is released of worth (outside of August, the worst movie months are January and February) it’s great to have a middle-of-the-road movie that’s better than mainstream fare but doesn’t “reek” of high-art for the sake of art pretentiousness praying for an Oscar. It’s funny without being acidic or “gross-out,” charming without being smarmy, better than amusing, and it has a degree of heart that’s sometimes missing from some comedy movies (or anything directed by Jason Friedberg and/or Aaron Seltzer).

My hat’s off to Ed Helms. I didn’t think that he could “lead” a movie but this is a part that seems written for him. Being a “Daily Show” alum (or rather, the “new” SNL) Helms is competing against fellow castmembers Steve Carell, Stephen Colbert, and Rob Corddry (among others). He is, however, different from the others in an “honest” sort of way which makes his brand of comedy less-annoying than Carell’s. While I did like him in “The Hangover,” as I said before, I wouldn’t have imagined him leading a movie but this one is his own.

Props, too, to Anne Heche. Yes, she’s eclipsed by her three-year relationship with Ellen Degeneres (which is apparent when no one remembers that she was married after, to a guy, for 8 years) and that has defined her career for better or worse. Miguel Arteta and his crew did a great job at removing Heche from her image: in this they make her a redhead with long hair (as opposed to her usual shorter blond hair). It works.

Why should you check this one out? Because you need a good laugh that doesn’t make you feel like you’ve blown $5 or $10 and can’t get those two hours back. Would I be willing to pay to see this again? Yes. I liked it that much. If you enjoy indies or just something different to watch then this is up your alley.

WATCH FOR “Daily Show” fellow castmember Rob Corddry at a house party.

My grade: B (well-deserved)