Midwest has never looked as fun as in ‘Cedar Rapids,’ although Ed Helms shows early signs of Michael Cera Syndrome

Cedar Rapids posterCedar Rapids (Now on DVD)

Grade: B

Starring: Ed Helms, Anne Heche, John C. Reilly

Rating: R

I thought going to Ikea with my sister was hell on earth, but it turns out I was wrong, and I’ll never complain about it again. At least it’s not an insurance convention in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

Then again, “what happens in Cedar Rapids stays in Cedar Rapids,” according to Joan Ostrowski-Fox, played by Anne Heche in the 2011 dramedy “Cedar Rapids.” Who knows what kind of weird stuff you might encounter when you head to the “big city.” You might end up making out with a topless babe in a swimming pool, partying with a hooker or spending a little naked time with an industry big shot in the locker room.

(Suddenly I’m feeling a little cheated I didn’t experience any of this at my last journalism convention in Portland, Ore. All I got was explosive diarrhea after having lunch at Taco Bell. Maybe it’s time to move to the upper Midwest?)

In the film, small town insurance agent Tim Lippe, played by Daily Show alumnus Ed Helms, is sent from podunkville, Wisconsin, to the glorious town of Cedar Rapids for an industry convention that culminates with the presentation of the prestigious “two-diamond” award. It’s his job to bring home the trophy, proving that his company is the best in the, well, Iowa-Wisconsin-Minnesota-ish region.

The problem is Tim Lippe is nothing less of a class-A dumbass, and at 34-years-old, traveling out of state for the convention is a coming-of-age experience. However, this is precisely what makes the film a joy to watch.

Helms nails the role of the naïve sweet guy who spent the last 20 years with his head up his ass instead of growing into a successful adult. He’s continually hooking up with his former seventh-grade teacher (played by Sigourney Weaver), thinking he’s in love with the recent divorcee and proudly declaring they’re basically “pre-engaged.” He spends his free time flying a remote control helicopter in his office at work. Plus, he’s way too excited about having a rental car in Iowa.

John C. Reilly

John C. Reilly

In Cedar Rapids, he meets the dorky-yet-confident Ronald Wilkes (played by Isiah Whitlock Jr.), the spunky Ostrowski-Fox, who is looking for a vacation from her life for the weekend, and the fantastically inappropriate Dean Ziegler (played by John C. Reilly), whom his boss specifically told him to avoid.

In the days leading to the award ceremony, the trio tries to push Lippe out of his shell with mixed success. The audience is treated to what could legitimately be Helms’ first drunk experience and dick joke, and it’s hilarious every step of the way.

After Helms has a one-night stand at the convention, he finally begins realize his transition to adulthood (albeit 15 years too late). With the blatantly obvious but not too heavy handed lines, Sigourney Weaver’s character tells Lippe to leave the nest and fly, thus becoming a man.

Helms’ tears at the words are convincing, and the sequence of genuine drama is alone worth the price of renting the film.

The film’s third act is best left intact for the viewer, but rest assured, Helms will be snorting coke before the end of the film and getting his ass beat for telling somebody he’s “probably not insured.”

Although Whitlock Jr. and Heche play their supporting roles well, it’s Reilly that truly helps the film shine as a comedy with his stupidly amusing brand of humor. Whether he is showing Lippe how to “show some teet” to the boss or getting hammered, putting a trashcan lid on his head as a diving helmet and lowering himself into a pool fully clothed, he steals nearly all his scenes.

Michael Cera

Michael Cera... ick

While “Cedar Rapids” functions well with Helms at the helm (you have to admit that’s some clever wordplay), it’s hard to imagine the next film starring Helms as the lead will be nearly as good. This is because Helms is suffering from what I like to call the “Michael Cera Syndrome.”

Michael Cera doesn’t act; he plays himself in everything. He’s an awkward kid (well, now 20-something) trying to get laid, and every Cera movie could easily be advertised as “Michael Cera as Michael Cera in ‘Awkward Teenager Tries to Get Laid.’”

(Russell Crowe suffers from a similar type of problem. They could advertise his films as “Russell Crowe is Russell Crowe in ‘Russell Crowe Kills Everybody.’” I’m pretty sure he’s not even aware he’s a movie star. I think they just keep him in a cage and poke at him with sticks, then turn on the cameras and let him out.)

Russell Crowe "Gladiator"

"Are you not entertained?!"

Similarly, Helms just seems like a really nice guy who never got his heart smashed by a wire-haired man goblin. He’s a sucker for mean and manipulative women in every roll, and it’s just a little too convincing.

My advice is to enjoy this film while you can. The next Helms movie could ruin the fun.

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