A tabloid take on the wacky underbelly of the insurance peddling securities business, Cedar Rapids simultaneously satirizes red state comfort zones of predictability versus the shakier ground of free will, for one insecure sad sack salesman. At the same time, director Miguel Arteta (Star Maps, Chuck & Buck) gleefully targets Middle American macho excess, if such a thing even exists, while manically mining humor from the least likely vocation of retail insurance.
Ed Helms (The Office, The Hangover) is Tim Lippe, a meek drudge at the BrownStar firm in Wisconsin. Lippe is also having an affair with his former grade school teacher, Macy Vanderhei (Sigourney Weaver). Though he believes they’re in love and ‘pre-engaged’, while she’s in it strictly for the sex and a little kinky role playing.
When their star salesman is found quite dead in the nude with a belt around his neck and expired from auto-erotic asphyxiation to put it diplomatically, Lippe is packed off instead at the last minute, to represent the company at the regional convention in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. To his utter shock and dismay, Lippe is assigned to a hotel room with convention regulars Dean Ziegler (John C. Reilly), an outlandishly lewd hotshot salesman, along with possibly the first black man he’s ever met, deceptively straitlaced Ronald Wilkes (Isiah Whitlock, Jr.).
Then there’s Joan Ostrowski-Fox (Anne Heche), a married mom and housewife who corners the clueless Lippe, to seductively wear down his conservative tendencies for a little incidental and very temporary getaway stranger sex. And when Ostrowski-Fox is in no way into his dire post-sex pleas that she confess to her betrayed spouse her sinful ways, an emotionally and vocationally bruised Lippe turns his attentions instead to his love at first sight encounter with a crackhead hotel hooker. There’s also an ongoing subplot lurking in the lascivious wings, pertaining to several salesperson of the year local division awards dubiously acquired by the aforementioned deceased auto-erotic asphyxiated adventurer.
Puerto Rican LA based filmmaker Arteta has a flair for nailing down macho extremes and cartoonish homophobia, especially when ridiculously scrutinizing rude guy talk, male on male anxiety around naked locker room hotel hugs, and impulsive gay wedding crashing. The laughs though, are a little too episodic and come off more like a string of skits. Especially when heading toward the highly predictable and hyper-romantic traditional Hollywood finish line.
Fox Searchlight Rated R 2 1/2 stars