Review in a Hurry: Set at a big Midwestern insurance convention, Ed Helms stars as Tim Lippe (as in "don't get lippy with me") a way too honest rep who comes face-to-face with "real" sales peeps John C. Reilly, Isiah Whitlock Jr. and Anne Heche.
Peppered with plenty of gags in a tight 87-minute runtime, Cedar Rapids might not be the raunchfest the trailer teases, but that's OK. Rapids is a refreshingly sweet film about characters. And who knew Anne Heche would deliver the funny? We did.
The Bigger Picture: When the boss (Stephen Root) gives Tim the chance to attend the annual big regional conference, he's excited and nervous. He's never left his home state of Wisconsin. But he's not squeaky clean mind you—he's currently having an affair with a teacher he had a crush on...when he was twelve. (Cool cougar Sigourney Weaver).
When it comes to policies and his client list of small-town families, Tim cares more about building Brown Star Insurance's integrity and community standing than the bottom line. But he needs to bring home the sacred Two Diamonds award, and that takes more than being a good guy.
Enter fellow conference attendees Dean (Reilly) who wants to party all the time, Ronald (Whitlock Jr.) who's shy but a bit crazy and Joan (Heche) who's awfully flirty for a married mother of three.
Director Miguel Arteta has directed episodes of The Office (where Helms has been hilarious for several seasons now), and his presence is probably why the film has such a confident but relaxed feel. Under his direction, Helms shines. He's played variations on the too-naive-to-be-believed guy before (The Hangover), but Tim feels more like a person than a sitcom type.
The script by Phil Johnston lets the characters' fears inform the laughs instead of just tossing in random jokes about sex and drugs. There certainly are some great moments involving the many vices one gets into while stuck at hotel for a long weekend (crack pipes!), but everything ratchets up in a way that feels more like Tim himself, unflinchingly honest.
While the cast delivers—Helms is equal parts sympathetic and goofball, Reilly a nut, Whitlock Jr. just plain strange (even stranger is that he starred on The Wire and now plays a character obsessed with the hit HBO show)—Anne Heche's Joan is the standout.
Joan sees these yearly conventions as the ultimate timeout from her suburban life, and Heche taps into something manic and charming. She has a way of goading Helms on that makes you want to see just how far she can push him. A late night rendezvous at a swimming pool shows that Heche can be funny and hot.
Also worth laughing with: Alia Shawkat pops up as a townie hooker bringing the same wit and sweetness she delivered as Maeby Fünke on Arrested Development.
Being trapped at a middling insurance conference? With these people? Totally worth it.
The 180—a Second Opinion: Even though Reilly is over-the-top, this isn't Step Brothers. If you're expecting jokes of the hard-R variety, this ain't for you. Case in point: The raunchiest castmember, Rob Corddry (Hot Tub Time Machine), is barely in the film.