This little comedy features a terrific ensemble cast anchored by the ever more endearing Ed Helms. After his break-out performance in The Hangover, and a regular role on television’s The Office, this is icing on the cake. Helms shows some range in this unexpectedly sweet, but raucous comedy.
Helms plays Tim Lippe, quite possibly the worlds most naive grown man. He’s never left his home-town, never been on a plane, and never been in a hotel before. He’s blissfully unaware of the world outside his job and home. Speaking of home, he spends his evenings bedding his old junior high teacher, played by Sigourney Weaver.
Lippe has managed to hold down a job at an insurance company, and thanks to his kind demeanor, he has a nice portfolio of clients. When the company’s golden boy dies under particularly embarrassing circumstances, Lippe is called upon to represent the company at a convention held in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. It might as well be Paris or Rome, because Lippe is giddy as a schoolboy at the prospect of going to the convention.
He’s also quite nervous, because he has the responsibility of making the case for his office to win the “Two Diamond” award, which is tops for the folks heading to this convention.
So Lippe embarks on his first plane trip and his first hotel stay with so much wonderment and awe that you just want to pinch his cheeks. He excitedly calls his “girlfriend” from the hotel, raving that there is a POOL! He is completely impressed by his nondescript and mediocre hotel accommodations. Lippe makes his very first acquaintance with a black man (at the age of 40) when he meets his roommate Roland, played by Isiah Washington, Jr.
The two soon find that they will have a third roommate, and the train-wreck known as Dean Ziegler (John C. Reilly) invades their space and wreaks havoc. He’s brash, bawdy, and boozy, but as played by Reilly, he’s a riot.
In the hotel bar the trio join a seasoned and sexy insurance agent played by Anne Heche. She’s a bored housewife who escapes to the convention every year because “What happens in Cedar Rapids, stays in Cedar Rapids”.
Debauchery ensues. Over the course of the movie the innocent Lippe encounters prostitutes, booze, meth, sex, bribery, and anything else you can think of. That packs quite a wallop for one weekend. On paper, it may sound a lot like The Hangover, but this film is not as raunchy, or ridiculous. It is also not as mean-spirtited.
The film does a great job skewering the activities that come hand and hand with these types of conventions. The attendees have to suffer through team building exercises like scavenger hunts, rock climbing, and pep talks.
It is a credit to Helms that you still find Lippe likable at the end of the film. Anne Heche is radiant and believable in her slightly melancholy role. Again, you should dislike her, but you don’t. Even Reilly’s obnoxious Ziegler is somewhat redeemable by the end of the film.
That’s hard to accomplish in this type of comedy, but director Miguel Arteta (Youth in Revolt, Chuck and Buck) pulls it off admirably. He coaxes excellent performances out of the cast, while allowing their comedic talents to shine.
All in all, Cedar Rapids is an awful fun place to visit.