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Cedar Rapids

Dir: Miguel Arteta. USA. 2010. 86mins

With echoes of 40-Year-Old Virgin, TV’s The Office, and the middle-American milieu of satirists Alexander Payne and Jim Taylor (who are credited producers), Cedar Rapids is a hilarious story about a small-town insurance agent who comes of age in the not-so-big Iowa city of its title. No more and no less than its premise suggests, the film delivers the laughs.

Director Miguel Arteta working with an amusing script by newcomer Phil Johnston, creates some wonderfully comedic bits, mostly with the help of Reilly’s memorable turn as the convention’s bad-boy.

With the Fox Searchlight marketing machine already busily working the picture, and with ample funny promotional material – such as some cheesy insurance commercials – the movie is ensured a healthy specialized life in the US and quite likely, broader crossover appeal. But the material may not translate as successfully in international markets.

Comedian Ed Helms (The Hangover) plays Tim Lippe, a Midwestern bumpkin, as innocent as a 12-year-old, whose whole life is selling insurance. When his company’s star salesman is discovered dead, Lippe must represent at the industry’s annual regional conference. For a naïve man who’s never left his hometown, it’s the moment of a life time, and everything, from the airplane’s exit row to the hotel’s indoor swimming pool, is cause for childlike wonder. “It’s like I came to Barbados,” he says, with a big teethy smile.

But once at the conference, Lippe’s eyes are slowly opened to the hedonistic pleasures and harsh realities of the world: While female insurance agent Joan Ostrowski-Fox (Anne Heche) seduces him, loudmouth drunkard Dean (“Deanzie”) Ziegler (John C. Reilly) shows him the dark, backward dealings of the insurance conference. Later, a hotel prostitute takes him on a wild drug-and-alcohol fueled binge that provides the movie a funny, quasi-climatic showdown at a party in the woods. As Ziegler says of Cedar Rapids, “Welcome to the jungle, Timbo.”

Director Miguel Arteta (who has directed episodes of The Office, as well as most recently Youth in Revolt) working with an amusing script by newcomer Phil Johnston, creates some wonderfully comedic bits, mostly with the help of Reilly’s memorable turn as the convention’s bad-boy. Picture the actor fully-clothed, entering a pool with a metal trashcan lid over his head like a deep-sea diving helmet. Or stripped-down to his boxers, working his paunch, and lecturing Lippe on the ways of the world with ridiculous metaphors: “You’ve got to scratch the tiger,” he says, “or da-a-a-nce with the tiger.”

While Cedar Rapids has an overly well-plotted story, culminating in hackneyed coming-of-age awareness for Lippe’s adolescent-minded hero and predictable comeuppance for the “bad guys,” the joy of the film lies in the newly bonded group of characters; Lippe, Ziegler, Ostrowski-Fox and African American salesman Ronald Wilkes (Isiah Whitlock, Jr., who brilliantly lampoons his own appearance in HBO’s The Wire) join forces in mischief like kids having a blast at summer camp.

Production companies: Fox Searchlight Pictures, Ad Hominem Enterprises

International distribution: Fox Searchlight

Producers: Jim Burke, Alexander Payne, Jim Taylor

Executive producer: Ed Helms

Screenplay: Phil Johnston

Cinematography: Chuy Chavez

Production designer: Doug Meerdink

Editor: Eric Kissack

Music: Christophe Beck

Website: www.brownstar-insurance.com

Main cast: Ed Helms, John C. Reilly, Anne Heche, Isiah Whitlock Jr., Alia Shawkat, Sigourney Weaver

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