The Death of a Salesman
Starring: Ed Helms, John C. Reilly
Written by Robert Patrick
A film where Ed Helms marches around, naively, for 86-minutes should be a train wreck. The ex-“Daily Show” correspondent’s Rolodex of humor contains one number: the act of looking surprised. So when I’m introduced with a film that plants him as the lead, I’m a bit miffed. Helms works well as a sidecar to other performer’s vehicles, but in the driver’s seat? Doubtful. Here, in director Miguel Arteta’s raucuous comedy, Helms tries to molt the perception of being a background oddball in someone else’s sideshow. But despite his increased camera time in “Cedar Rapids”, he still becomes a coat rack for other comedians to hang their jackets on. The real star of Arteta’s picture is John C. Reilly. The warbly-voiced thespian is more of a fire cracker than a human being. Reilly paintballs “Cedar Rapids” with an acrid tongue, leaving so many victims in his path that he should have the residue of gunpowder on his lips.
“Cedar Rapids” is about Tim Lippe (Helms), a doe-eyed insurance salesman in Wisconsin. Lippe is asked, because of certain unforeseen circumstances, to represent his team at a prestigious insurance convention in Iowa. Once there, he meets several salespeople, from all around the country, that punch him into their club of debauchery and mayhem. Lippe has the demeanor of a newborn puppy who is just finding his legs, so the heavy drinking of his companions make him feel ill at ease – especially when Dean Ziegler (Reilly) shows up to stir the pot. Ziegler is the antithesis of Lippe: the man is noisier than a wind chime in a thunderstorm. The odd couple formula, simple as it is, works here in its usual form. Lippe gets a soul noogie from his new friend, and lots of unexpected hi-jinx ensue.
“Cedar Rapids” is about one man finding himself, a soliloquy of life and what it means to take chances. “Cedar Rapids” is also a stick chart of how to offend people when speaking publicly. There is more cursing in here than you would find in two viewings of “Goodfellas”. Reilly gets all of the good dialogue, and he makes it pop like his maw was an M-80. This performance sufficiently makes up for last year’s maudlin and overbearingly awkward “Cyrus”, in which Reilly had the presence of a gum wrapper. Screenwriter Phil Johnston lassos in the perfect kind of dialogue for Reilly, who spits these lines out like they were seeds at a watermelon eating competition. Helms doesn’t do a whole lot throughout the film except for set-up situations for other actors to capitalize on. And though he is an alleged lead, it seems to be by title only. Helms furrows his brow, acts insecure, and makes poor choices. His scenes without Reilly are almost like line breaks.
There is a romantic sub plot in this film, but it isn’t distractingly bad. A debased kind of moral fabric is also in this film, but it’s threaded by the dinged up needle of Reilly, so it’s okay to wear. Sure, the plot of “Cedar Rapids” is baked with simple ingredients. If it were a meal it would consist of flour and water…and maybe a touch of vodka (courtesy of Dean Ziegler). It’s nice to know that there’s a movie, so early in the year, that can surprise and shock viewers like the dropped blade of a guillotine can. My suggestion would be to bring your buddies out to the theater, get ready for clever and crass wordplay, and have a night with John C. Reilly that doesn’t make you want to repress your evening (still looking at you, “Cyrus”.)