By: Roxana Hadadi
John C. Reilly steals movies. Whether goofy, like in “Step Brothers,” or more campy, as a vampire in “Cirque du Freak: The Vampire’s Assistant,” Reilly huffs and puffs and grabs scenes from his castmates like nobody’s business. And in “Cedar Rapids,” the latest stupid comedy that should tide you over until “The Hangover 2” gallops into theaters this summer, Reilly is in full felony mode.
As the disgustingly dirty-mouthed and hilariously hedonistic Dean Ziegler, an insurance agent who pumps his body full of alcohol and has no problem voicing his gross sexual thoughts about women, Reilly is fantastic. Somewhat unhinged but tethered by a strong loyalty to his friends, fellow insurance agents Ronald Wilkes (Isiah Whitlock Jr.) and Joan Ostrowski-Fox (Anne Heche), Dean grows as a character throughout the film, especially when he meets Tim Lippe (Ed Helms). As the four of them convene in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, for an annual insurance convention with dozens of other agents, it’s up to Dean to help Tim grow from the naïve guy who befriends the hotel’s resident prostitute into a more self-assured, strong-willed independent. Kind of like “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington,” but with less politics and more drug use.
The film is centered on Tim, and audiences are immediately introduced to his sad little life: He’s never left Wisconsin, he’s never been on a plane, he doesn’t like using his credit card, he’s never been in a hotel, he’s meek and alone and thoroughly unaware of those two qualities. He’s convinced that the sexual relationship he’s having with his much-older, former middle-school science teacher (Sigourney Weaver) will end in marriage, and he idolizes another insurance agent, Roger (Thomas Lennon), whom he works with at Brown Star Insurance because he’s won a few Two Diamonds awards, given to the best agents in the business.
But when Roger turns up dead from an erotic asphyxiation accident, Tim’s boss, Bill Krogstad (Stephen Root), who has looked out for Tim since his mother died, decides to send him to the annual Cedar Rapids convention instead. And though Roger is a well-meaning but totally socially awkward guy, Bill expects him to come back with another Two Diamonds award – or he’ll lose his job. Oh, and Bill’s two pieces of advice? Stay away from Dean Ziegler, a “poacher” who had allegedly stolen one of Brown Star’s clients, and charm the convention’s organizer, Orin Helgesson (Kurtwood Smith), a devoted family man who prides himself on his morality.
It’s at the convention where the film picks up its pace, presenting us with tons of crazy hi-jinks similar to what Helms’ character got up to in “The Hangover.” First he finds out that he’s rooming with Dean, who’s broken up over the end of his 17-year marriage and ready to party in order to forget, and Ronald, who Tim is shocked to see and bluntly calls “Afro-American.” But while he’s cold to both of them and their friend Joan at first, a trip to a karaoke joint – where Tim sings a song he made up about the insurance industry, a nice nod to Helms’ musical talent – and numerous shots seal the friendship.
This wouldn’t be rated R, though, if things didn’t get out of control. Soon people are having sex, cheating on their significant others, doing hard drugs, hanging out with prostitutes and stabbing each other in the back, leading Tim to realize that the insurance industry isn’t the righteous, ethical business he once thought. Or is it?
Whether Tim goes down the road of immoral evil or stays true to his small-town roots is the film’s biggest conflict, but until then the film delivers enough laughs to keep viewers invested. Helms has played this same bumbling character before, both in “The Hangover” and “The Office,” but he manages to put a new spin on it here with promise rings and crack pipes. And then there’s Reilly, who steals tons of scenes with Dean’s terrible advice and creepy sexual interests, and Whitlock is great as the straight man who cheekily references “The Wire,” a show which the actor used to star in. And while Heche really could have been any actress with a sense of comedic timing, she fits in well, too.
The R rating is based on the film’s cursing, sexual content, inclusion of prostitution, drug use and violence, and younger teens shouldn’t see it for the hard drugs and increasingly vulgar language. Older teens may be able to handle the drugs and sex, but if you didn’t think “The Hangover” or a Judd Apatow film like “Superbad” or “Knocked Up” was right for your kids, than “Cedar Rapids” shouldn’t be, either. If they’re old enough, though, “Cedar Rapids” is nice while it lasts, an ultimately cute spin on the dirty-comedy formula.