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LAist Movie Review: Cedar Rapids

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Ed Helms, a breakout star from The Hangover and regular on The Office, plays Tim Lippe, a naïve insurance salesman from small-town Wisconsin who finds himself far out of his comfort zone when he heads to an industry convention in Cedar Rapids. He’s there representing his company BrownStar Insurance, its logo complete with a Vonnegutesque asterisk in the B, should you not get the joke in the phrase alone and need a visual. It’s not the kind of thing Lippe would pick up on; he’s oblivious to the fact that back in Brown Valley, he’s surrounded by a-holes. Lippe has some growing up to do, and though it isn’t an easy process, it is pretty hilarious. Even if you’ve never taken a business trip like this, and especially if you have, you’re going to find entering into the world of the “ASMI” convention scene an amusing escapade.

Lippe’s in a rut in Brown Valley, Wisconsin, but he doesn’t know it. He thinks he’s in love with (and in a serious relationship with) his teacher from seventh-grade, divorcée Macy Vanderhei (Sigourney Weaver.) Macy, however, is just in it for kicks. Orphaned in his early teens, Lippe’s found a father figure in Bill Krogstad (Stephen Root,) the owner of BrownStar, who sends Lippe to Cedar Rapids not because he believes in him, but because there’s no one else to go. Krogstad has compiled a detailed list of whom Lippe should seek out and who to steer clear of at “ASMI.” Enter the veteran conventioneers…

Dean Ziegler (John C. Reilly), or "Deanzie" as he likes to be called, is number one on the list of people Lippe should avoid. In Hangover terms, he fancies himself Bradley Cooper, but is more Zach Galifianakis. Dean may be Reilly’s funniest sidekick character since Boogie Nights. Ronald Wilkes (Isiah Whitlock, Jr.) is part chaperone, part partner-in-crime and 100 percent the first African American Lippe has ever met. Ronald has a penchant for telling lame jokes that manage to hit because they’re so unfunny. Joan Ostrowski-Fox rounds out the motley crew and is played by a red-haired Anne Heche, who hasn’t rocked this shade since Huck Finn in 1993, which was, coincidently, the last time I liked her in a movie before Cedar Rapids. She aces a role that could have gone too macho or too maternal and fallen flat.

The only time the film seems to loose its footing is when it ventures into a subplot involving the hotel’s local hooker, Bree (Arrested Development’s Alia Shawkat), who, in Hangover terms, is no Heather Graham. Helms, however, steps into the role of “Leading Man” effortlessly, embodying his character with an innocent charm and underlying strength that keeps the audience rooting for him. Cedar Rapids is a clever, offbeat comedy that manages to be risqué without offending and heartwarming without being sappy.

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