Review: ‘Cedar Rapids’ is quite a trip

Ever wanted to know where the sheltered, socially challenged geeks from your high school ended up? According to writer Phil Johnston, they’re small town insurance salesmen.

An official choice at the Sundance Film Festival, “Cedar Rapids” opens not in the Iowan city but instead the small, sleepy town of Brown Valley, Wis., where Tim Lippe (Ed Helms) has lived his entire life.

The naive 34-year-old has become a well-liked, second-rate insurance agent at Brown Star Insurance.

When the face of the company accidentally dies from a fetish-induced suicide, the owner and Lippe’s father figure Bill Krogstad (Stephen Root) is desperate to save their reputation as a Two-Diamond Award insurance company. Lippe is sent to the esteemed ASMI convention in Cedar Rapids to represent the company and win the title as a morally invested, responsible agency once again.

What really makes this movie are all of Lippe’s subplots. From having his seventh grade teacher as his current lover (Sigourney Weaver), to falling for a prostitute he greets with butterscotch candies, to his uncertainty about living with an African American, the awkwardness of this newbie plays well with every situation.

“Cedar Rapids” falls into the genre of the dark comedies typically picked by Sundance and successfully gets the entire audience laughing at things that shouldn’t be funny.

The to-be-avoided Dean Ziegler (John C. Reilly) throws in so many inappropriate punch lines that by the end of the movie it doesn’t matter if the jokes are typically too crude for your taste. They’re just hilarious.

Movies like this, including others such as “Little Miss Sunshine,” need to be given some credibility before heading to the theaters. Without that, it would not be near as refreshing to see all these actors who notoriously play sidekicks (e.g., Helms in “The Hangover,” Root in “Dodgeball” and Reilly as the supporting actor in any Will Ferrell movie) step up to the plate and finally become substantial lead characters.

“Cedar Rapids” successfully pulls the awkward, naive and partially racist kid you knew back in grade school out of his habitat and shows how everything can go wrong but then turn right in the end.

It may not quite set itself apart from the basic fish-out-of-water storyline, but hearing lines like  “a chocolate/vanilla love sandwich” and seeing Reilly jiggle his man boobs was more than enough entertainment.

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