The Hangover’s Ed Helms stars in Cedar Rapids as Tim Lippe, a naive insurance salesman who has never ventured outside his small midwestern town. When a rather unsavory accident claims the life of Lippe’s hero and the firm’s top agent (who apparently learned nothing from the deaths of David Carradine and Michael Hutchence), he’s forced to carry the Brown Star Insurance flag at an annual convention in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.
His mission: come home with the coveted Two Diamonds Award that Brown Star has won for three years running. The Two Diamonds, supposedly, represents excellence in ethical insurance sales, as well as “godliness.”
Lippe becomes acquainted with three convention veterans (try reading that aloud): the straight-laced Ronald Wilkes (Isiah Whitlock Jr., probably the first black man Lippe has ever seen in person), a spunky woman played by Anne Heche and the hard-partying Dean Ziegler — the man Lippe was warned to avoid.
Heche’s character is a married family woman with two kids, but she treats Cedar Rapids like it’s her Las Vegas. She develops a flirty relationship with Lippe, which threatens his “pre-engagement” with his 7th grade teacher (Sigourney Weaver) and turns him into an emotional train-wreck.
Heche nails her role, but Cedar Rapids is perhaps best enjoyed as a John C. Reilly comedic clinic. His Deanzie is the type of arrogant buffoon that Bill Murray would have owned in his prime. Only Reilly makes him irresistible — A Big Ern with a heart, if you will.
It’s strange, yet quite fitting, to see Ziegler become the moral center of the movie as Lippe learns what his former “hero” actually did to win those Two Diamonds trophies. The Deanzie truly cares for his friends and has their backs under any circumstances. The film loses a ton of energy anytime Reilly disappears from the screen and those scenes tend to drag by comparison, even as Lippe runs off on a drug binge with a prostitute named Bree (Alia Shawkat of “Arrested Development” fame) and gets his ass kicked by Rob Corddry (Hot Tub Time Machine).
Director Miguel Arteta (The Good Girl, Youth in Revolt) never lets the story travel too far outside the realms of reality. As someone from a small midwestern town, I can say that very much of Cedar Rapids certainly does ring true. Lippe is a man without dreams, but he’s perfectly happy helping more ambitious people achieve theirs. And he somehow makes insurance sales sound like the most rewarding profession you could have.
Maybe he just doesn’t know any better. Or maybe the world needs more people like Tim Lippe. I’m sure they’re there, just too occupied in their own little bubble to show us what they have to offer. The world might be a better place if they did, but I’m not sure the world deserves them. We’d only pollute them.