"Cedar Rapids": Raunchy, yet emotionally rewarding

Posted: February 18, 2011

Human cork Ed Helms bobs to the surface of the river of raunch that is Cedar Rapids, a gentle, gross-out comedy that tickles laughs from the misadventures of a small-town innocent at large in a midsize, Midwestern burg.

In this broadest of farces, Helms (Daily Show alum, The Office fixture, and member of The Hangover crew) delivers a performance of touching delicacy, one almost as remarkable as that of Tom Hanks in Big.

Helms is Tim Lippe, boyish, pencil-necked, and sweater-vested, the most-trusted insurance agent in Brown Valley, Wis. Orphaned in his youth, Tim is unusually attached to his boss, Bill (Stephen Root), and to his seventh-grade teacher, Mrs. Vanderhei (Sigourney Weaver), now his lover. For man-child Tim, it's a passionate romance; for her, the mildest of diversions.

When Bill taps Tim to represent the agency at the annual convention in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, the perennial pleaser is both frightened and thrilled. Not only will he contend for insurance's highest honor, the Two Diamonds award, but it also will mark his first time out of town! His first time on a plane!

Tim greets the TSA agent with the infectious enthusiasm he brings to life, making him perhaps the one American who enjoys airport security. It is a measure of the respect that screenwriter Phil Johnston and director Miguel Arteta have for Tim that they do not treat him as a rube, but as a passenger on his maiden voyage to adulthood.

The ship's captain is Orin Helgesson (Kurtwood Smith), the self-important and puritanical president of the insurance association and thus the guy Tim must impress. Tim's cruise guides are Ronald Wilkes (Isiah Whitlock Jr.), a likable, all-business agent; Dean Ziegler (John C. Reilly), the loudmouthed vulgarian Bill warned him against; and Joan Ostrowski-Fox (Anne Heche), the fun-loving agent who both feels protective of Tim's innocence and knows he needs an education in the way operators operate.

For a movie loaded with ear-scorching profanity, oceans of booze, and illegal drugs enough to keep all of Cedar Rapids in high spirits for a month, there is something fundamentally decent about the film in which Tim loses his illusions, but finds himself. Who'd've thunk it? R-rated raunch with G-rated values.

Contact movie critic Carrie Rickey at 215-854-5402 or crickey@phillynews. com. Read her blog, "Flickgrrl," at http://www.philly.com/phillyblogs/



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