Viva Las Rapids

Ed Helms of “The Hangover” is back in the big city — but this time around, it’s not Las Vegas.

In “Cedar Rapids” Helms plays good-natured Tim Lippe, an insurance agent who has never left the confines of his birthplace, the exciting-sounding Brown Valley, Wisconsin — you know, the kind of small town where taking your shoes off at the airport is foreign because you know the employees by name (“It’s me,”Lippe tells his friend working security).

Blissfully nai?ve Lippe starts off content with his life in Brown Valley; he remains in his childhood home, seeking guidance from his boss, Bill (Stephen Root), and bedding his seventh-grade teacher Macy (Sigourney Weaver). But when Lippe is sent to the annual convention in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, he finally gets a taste of the big city.

There Lippe meets his first “Afro- American,” Ronald Wilkes (“The Wire’”s Isiah Whitlock Jr.), womanizing frat boy- Dean Ziegler (John C. Reilly) and party girl Joan Ostrowski-Fox (Anne Heche).

The magic of “Cedar Rapids” comes from its insistence on real characters. Ziegler isn’t crude for the sake of being crude; it’s just his own private rebellion against the wholesomeness of his small town life, and Reilly portrays this well.

Heche’s Joan — a woman taking a break from married life — is both funny and alluring, while Whitlock nails Ronald’s deadpan in a string of hysterically unfunny jokes (“Knock knock”/“Who’s there?”/“No one. I’m sick”).

Like the characters that populate small towns, the humor of “Cedar Rapids” is centered on kernels of goodness. The comedy develops as Lippe finds himself pushed further down the rabbit hole by Ziegler, Wilkes and Fox, who corrupt him one Bloody Mary at a time. It’s these often ill-fated attempts at rebellion that make “Cedar Rapids” so endearing. Despite all their faults, there is nothing that will stop these friends from helping each other.

Sometimes it may be too sweet for its own good, but director Miguel Arteta takes producer Alexander Payne’s (“Election,” “About Schmidt”) lead, and crafts characters that ultimately feel like a part of a family. Even if they spend time fighting a couple crackheads, it’s hard not to appreciate Lippe and his bumbling sidekicks for being believable, everyman antiheroes. (B)

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