Ed Helms is one of the breakout actor/comedians from The Daily Show.
Helms, Stephen Colbert, Steve Carell, Samantha Bee, John Oliver, Rob Riggle, Mo Rocca and Rob Corddry are among those that worked on the show during the Jon Stewart era.
Stewart played straight-man to the humbling and often wrong reporter Helms. When Carrell headed up the American version of The Office, Helms took his clueless act along as paper salesman Andy Bernard.
Helms has appeared in a variety of films, including the mega-hit Hangover trilogy, which led to his first starring role, Cedar Rapids. The Hangover films were directed by Todd Phillips (Joker, Starsky and Hutch).
Helms plays Tim Lippe, a small town Wisconsin insurance agent with a very organized, predictable and safe life. He carries on a once a week affair with a former teacher Macy Vanderel (Sigourney Weaver). He’s more into it than her, who has other younger men in her stable. Tim is about as square as a cube. Going to Cedar Rapids is the travel adventure of his life.
Tim works at BrownStar Insurance as a junior member of the company. Roger is the star agent, who suddenly dies, leaving Tim to represent the firm in Cedar Rapids to deliver a presentation to win the coveted Two Diamonds Award. Roger has always delivered the award. The gauntlet has been thrust into the hands of Tim and the boss (Stephen Root) puts the pressure on Tim to once again, deliver the Two Diamonds Award.
Tim is told in un uncertain terms by his boss to avoid Dean Ziegler (John C. Reilly) at the conference. Tim is rooming with Ronald Wilks (Isiah Whitlock, Jr.) an African American, almost as square as Tim. Tim has apparently not seen many African Americans, he is initially afraid that Wilks has broken into his room. The hotel overbooks and Ziegler is forced to room with them. This is where Tim’s conference experience starts to go sideways.
The Fourth member of the group is Joan Ostrowski (Anne Heche) another insurance agent, who comes to the conference to drink and screw around.
The film shows the insurance business as unscrupulous up as any other profession, with careers hanging in the balance, back room deals, and a test of customer loyalty. In Tim’s eyes, insurance agents are super heroes. He begins to understand the underside of the insurance game. Roger, Tim’s idol, is revealed as a sexual deviant and the reason he brought home the awards was because he paid off the association President Kurtwood Smith). Tim is devastated when he learns, but ponies up his travel money as a payoff to secure the award.
Tim gets drunk, has sex with Joan, into a fight, befriends a prostitute, gets caught skinny dipping in the hotel pool, does drugs and gets fired, all while in Cedar Rapids.
The one person Tim can depend on is Ziegler, who comes to Tim’s rescue when his boss sells the insurance agency and will close down the office where Tim works. Tim responds by standing up in front of his peers and admitting the bribe, which squashes the deal. Tim and his three cohorts contact his clients and ask them to support him if he starts his own agency.
Tim stands on his own, sheds the bubble he’s lived in and sees who are his real friends. Tim is still square but his edges are rounded a bit.
This film has a lot of goofiness in it. This is one of Helms’ first “normal” roles. He’s much like Steve Martin was, hiding behind an eccentric and exaggerated persona in many of his early films, an extension of The Wild and Crazy Guy he played on television and in his stand-up routines. Helms really embraces the straight-laced, naïve role of Tim, and admirably struggles with the dirty reality of the insurance business and people not really being what he thinks they are, from his girlfriend to Roger, his idol. His evolution through the film is expected.
Reilly turns in the best role as Ziegler, who is more than the goodtime frat boy, he has a loyal and compassionate side, but it takes awhile for it to come out. His constant craziness and snarky comments are one of the strengths of the film. Heche turns in a good performance as Joan, who uses the annual conference to shed her marriage and responsibility to go wild. Her humorous, but empathetic interaction with Tim gives the film a bit of poignancy. Whitlock is the wildcard, he tries to stay out of Ziegler’s gutter, but is able to bridge that and Tim’s vanilla world. When Tim disappears and ends up at a wild party, getting beaten up, it is the Wilks character that assumes a gangsta attitude to help rescue Tim.
Helms has worked continuously in recent years, featured roles in many times, a few television roles and some voice work. He even had a dramatic role in Chappaquiddick, which I would like to see him mix more of these roles into his schedule, like Steve Carrell, Robin Williams and Steve Martin eventually did.
Director Miquel Arteta has directed television and a few films, edgy comedy is his forte. I have not seen most of what he has done, his films seem to fly under the radar. Cedar Rapids was writer Phil Johnston’s first feature film. He has gone on to write the Wreck It Ralph films, Zootopia and a few other films.
If you like films such as Semi-Pro, Old School, the Hangover films, The Wedding Singer or Starsky and Hutch, you will enjoy the sometimes crude humor and the buddy relationships.