“Cedar Rapids” (Dir. Miguel Arteta, 2011)
This new comedy is only playing in Raleigh at the Regal North Hills Stadium 14, and it’s in one of their smallest theaters. That’s a shame because it’s a winning film that’s as charming as it is lovably crude, wonderfully carried by Ed Helms (The Office, “The Hangover”).
The straight-laced and extremely dorky Helms is a small town insurance salesman whose boss (Stephen Root) sees as the “kid who was going places, but then…didn’t.”
When hot shot salesman Thomas Lennon (The State, Reno 911) dies from auto-erotic asphyxiation, Helms is sent in his place to the annual insurance industry convention in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.
Helms, who amusingly is having a fling with his much older former elementary school teacher (a sly Sigourney Weaver), is nervous about going, especially since he’s never left his home town or been on an airplane before.
Upon leaving, Root warns Helms to stay away from John C. Reilly as a sleazy possible client poacher, and, yep, that’s who he turns out having to room with at the hotel.
Luckily his other room-mate is Isiah Whitlock Jr. (Clay Davis from The Wire) who uses snappy phrases like L.A.C. (Loud And Clear) and “and at the end of the day that’s N.T.S. – that’s Not Too Shabby.”
There’s also the surprisingly appealing performance by Anne Heche as another convention veteran who ferociously flirts with Helms.
So our hapless hero Helms’ goal is to win the coveted 2 Diamonds Award by schmoozing insurance association president Kurtwood Smith (most likely best known as the dad on That ‘70s Show, but I prefer to think of him as the villain in the first “Robocop”).
But Relliy’s partying antics, the temptation of Heche, and a brewing bribery scandal may thwart Helm’s path to victory.
There are a lot of laughs in “Cedar Rapids”, most of the clever character based variety that was so missing from the raunchy-for-the-sake-of-raunch of the recent Farrelly Brothers flick “Hall Pass”.
In fact, there have been few comedy films lately that feel like they have real empathy for the people on the screen. Helms gives us a guy whose naivety we initially laugh at, but come to laugh with as the film goes on.
He comes off like a big kid, but not like man-children in the films of Judd Apatow, he’s more about the wide-eyed giddy feeling of learning things for the first time.
In this movie that giddiness is hilariously endearing, and at the end of the day that’s N.T.S.