Sunday, July 17, 2011

Cedar Rapids (2011) ***½

When I hear the name Cedar Rapids, Iowa, I tend to think of some backwater, middling, mid-western city. (In fairness, I know nothing about the place.) For Tim Lippe though, Cedar Rapids is very much the big city. A grown man, probably in his forties, Tim has never left the small, farming town where he grew up and has worked his whole adult life as an insurance agent. Beloved by his clients for his honesty and earnestness, he is mostly ignored by his co-workers, and we get the impression that the only sexual experience he has is a current fling with his old junior high school teacher.

When the star salesman at Tim’s agency dies, Tim (Ed Helms) is handed the job of going to Cedar Rapids for a small insurance convention where he will pitch has agency for a prestigious award. Every aspect of this trip, including flying and staying in a hotel for the first time, terrifies Tim. Rube that he is, though, he is generally likeable, so he winds up getting befriended by a wacky trio played by John C. Reilly, Anne Heche, and Isiah Whitlock, Jr. Over a couple of days, these new friends help Tim come out of his shell, even as he learns some ugly truths about the insurance industry.

I didn’t hear a thing about this film during its theatrical release. It was a review of the DVD in “Entertainment Weekly,” suggesting that it was an overlooked gem, that caught my eye. They were right; the movie is charming. It’s pretty silly and over-the-top, but not in an obnoxious, Will Ferrell way. Ed Helms (Andy, from “The Office”) is a comedic genius, and John C. Reilly just knocks it out of the park. Even Anne Heche is funny and surprisingly sexy in this. Fans of the movie “Office Space” may recognize Stephen Root, who played Milton in that film, in a small role. It was also a treat to see Alia Shawkat, who played Maeby on “Arrested Development”. Here she plays a hooker with a heart of gold.

“Cedar Rapids” isn’t going to set a new standard for comedies or engender world peace or anything, but it’s a fun little movie and well worth checking out.

3.5 stars out of 5

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