Director Miguel Arteta’s Cedar Rapids Movie Review – Starring Ed Helms, John C. Reilly, Isiah Whitlock Jr. and Anne Heche
The title for the film Cedar Rapids (movie trailer) makes it sound like a potentially wild, rafting movie, until you look at a map and realize it is instead based on the city of Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Here, Cedar Rapids serves as a big, intimidating locale for Tim Lippe, a middle-aged, small town insurance salesman, who has never even been on a plane before. A yearly insurance convention, the AMSI, is the reason for the gathering and Tim’s boss desperately wants him to win the prestigious 2-diamond award for their tiny Brown Valley insurance company.
Tim is portrayed by Ed Helms, who prior to this I have seen in one film role ever, via 2009’s The Hangover. He plays the exact type of character one would expect, a semi-single, lonely, straight arrow with nothing but good intentions in his heart. Tim has been thrust into the role of representing the agency after the sudden death of a colleague. Once Tim arrives at the convention, conventional hi-jinks ensue.
While Tim is treating the AMSI as a serious business trip, convention veterans from other insurance companies come to whoop-it-up and let loose, to escape their lives for a few days. At the convention we meet Dean “Deanzie” Ziegler, Ronald Wilkes and Joan Fox. The plot essentially revolves around the veteran outlandish trio taking conservative Tim under their wing to show him the ropes of the convention.
The Cedar Rapids Cast Has Palpable Chemistry in this Broad Comedy
Tim eventually loosens up with the help of John C. Reilly’s Deanzie, who serves as the primary source of comedy, with his loud, brash, endearing and interfering ways. Isiah Whitlock Jr., best known for his role in the hit cop-crime drama “The Wire,” plays the sexually ambiguous Ronald, with a wink-wink to the audience and serves as a good yin to Deanzie’s yang. Anne Heche’s Joan brings the foursome together while naturally engaging in some sexual fun with Tim. All the characters bring their own baggage to the convention, with the possibility of seeing it disappear. Mix in a hooker with a heart, some untold truths about the 2-diamond award and the story can find its legs.
If you couldn’t tell, Cedar Rapids is primarily a fish out of water, coming-of-age story with morality undertones, which works well enough. It’s a tale we’ve seen a thousand times before, but it still has its endearing moments. Director Miguel Arteta (Star Maps, Youth In Revolt) lets the actors serve the story without interfering with any technical camera tricks. What makes the film work is the general realism of the situations the characters find themselves in, even if their way out of those situations might not be common.
Rapids will surprise no one but it has a few laughs and the cast generates enough chemistry to propel the film forward towards its completely expected climax. Despite the lack of thrills, you can’t help but root for Tim, and it’s to Helm’s credit and a pretty smart script by first-time big screen scribe Phil Johnston, that it all holds together. Supporting players like Sigourney Weaver, Stephen Root and Rob Corddry are welcome additions. Tim’s journey wouldn’t be complete without them.