Lippe's boss (the always funny Stephen Root) only has two directives for him: come back with the coveted Two Diamond Award (presented to the agency that best combines business acumen with a high moral code) and avoid at all costs some joker named Dean Ziegler (John C. Reilly). Both prove to be tall orders: the Two Diamond Award is bestowed by a holier-than-thou conference organizer (That '70s Show's Kurtwood Smith) with a hidden agenda, and Dean Ziegler is assigned to Lippe as one of his two suitemates by the hotel.
This Ziegler chap is a real piece of work loud, obnoxious, insulting, profane. Did I mention he loves to party? His zest for the celebration has him along with fellow roommate Ronald (The Wire's Isiah Whitlock, Jr.) and the MILFy Joan (Anne Heche) dragging an unwilling Lippe from hotel bar to gay wedding-crashing (a clever nod to the Iowa setting) to late-night skinny-dipping in the indoor pool. Together, they're an unbeatable comic ensemble.
What makes Cedar Rapids work aside from the acutely observed locations and authentically drab production design are the performances. Ed Helms plays Lippe as a thoroughly good man who continually backs into compromising situations. It's similar shtick to his character in The Office, but Tim Lippe comes across as more of a real guy than a TV caricature. (You can't help but love him.) John C. Reilly gets all the best lines and delivers them with aplomb. Whitlock also nails his part (the scene when he does his imitation of Omar from The Wire is a riot, and not just for the moment seen in all the previews), and supporting players Root, Smith and even Sigourney Weaver in an extended cameo, all do fine work.
But a special nod needs to go to Anne Heche an actress who all but fell off the movie map after a tumultuous rise and fall in the '90s, and who surely deserves the Comeback Performer of the Year Award. Now sporting longish red hair and more mileage on her face (but not much!), Heche plays Joan as funny, sexy and deeper than the other characters. The actress elevates what could have been just "the love interest" into a character who stands as an equal in the boys' club.
Cedar Rapids is ultimately a low-key comedy that only flirts with the over-the-top gross-out humor so popular at the multiplex these days. But by turning down the volume, the filmmakers have created something that rings far more genuine than 100 version of Hall Pass. More genuine, and far more funny.
I've never gone on a business trip, but the idea of one has a magical hold on my imagination. I'm also a pretty well-traveled individual who loves hotels and airports and smelly taxicabs, which makes me the opposite of Cedar Rapids' Tim Lippe (Ed Helms), a small-town insurance salesmen pressed by his superiors to represent his firm at an annual industry convention in the titular Midwestern city. Lippe isn't dumb, but he's about as innocent as a child, which makes him ill-prepared to deal with the debauchery that takes place when pent-up stuffed shirts let loose on the company dime.