Ed Helms

Movie Review

Grossing an astounding $277 million in the domestic box offices, the first “Hangover” film was one of the most successful films of summer 2009. By far the highest grossing R-rated comedy of all time, “Hangover” is the third highest R-rated film to boot. It's guaranteed that its sequel, “The Hangover Part II,” which comes out today, will follow suit.

Although director Todd Phillips and star Zach Galifianakis stumbled last year with the atrocious “Due Date,” they’re both in fine form for the second “Hangover” film, the rare sequel that bests its predecessor in nearly every way.

The sequel's plot is nearly identical to the first film – Stu (Ed Helms), Phil (Bradley Cooper) and Alan (Zach Galifianakis) drink to excess before a wedding and wake up hours later to discover one of their friends missing. This time around, instead of trying to find the missing groom in Vegas, they’re searching for the brother of Stu’s bride-to-be while stranded in Bangkok, Thailand.

For much of the first 20 minutes, the film is painful to watch. We’re quickly reintroduced to all the characters, which mostly involves Galifianakis being standoffish and Helms playing easily flustered. There’s an extensive collection of wedding cliches, complete with a resentful future father-in-law, an awkward speech at a rehearsal dinner and zany cultural clashes that are uninspired and unfunny across the board.

Audiences brave enough to stick around after the dispiriting first act devoid of humor will find plenty to like once its characters find themselves in a dingy Bangkok hotel room with no memory of how they got there. Just like the first film, most of the entertainment comes from watching the three heroes stumble their way through the previous night’s events, which are suitably more destructive than the first film’s mishaps, even reducing an entire city block to smoldering ashes.

Because Vegas seems relatively innocuous next to the crime-ridden Bangkok, the film has a sense of danger and urgency that further ups the ante. The stakes are raised across the board and there’s a sense of urgency to the group’s quest that was missing from the first film.

The sequel also escalates the comedy, venturing to weird, dark places for laughs. A short sequence in a strip club that’s not what it appears is perhaps the film’s oddest detour, made utterly hilarious by Ed Helms' increasingly horrified reactions.

Helms supports most of the film. The always funny Galifianakis gets most of the film’s big laughs, but Helms delivers plenty of solid, chuckle-worthy one-liners and tears into the film’s brief dramatic moments with aplomb. He even manages to sell a climactic speech that could have been unbearably cheesy with a weaker actor.

Fans of the first “Hangover” film know what they’re getting into with “The Hangover Part II.” This is essentially the same film, but even more over-the-top and surprisingly better. Despite a few dead spots in the beginning, it's a worthy sequel; a memorable R-rated comedy that dares the audience to give it enough money to warrant a third film.

In the 2009 box office giant “The Hangover,” Ed Helms (along with every other principal cast member) suddenly became a household name, and, like his “Hangover” co-stars, his next few projects have essentially been twists on the persona established in that movie. However, “Cedar Rapids” is smart in its use of Helms, taking what made him funny in “The Hangover” while making sure to invent a new character to go along with it.

Helms plays Tim Lippe, an insurance salesman who has never left his Wisconsin hometown until his firm’s star agent dies in a hilariously raunchy fashion, leaving Tim as the only candidate to attend a major insurance convention in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. He’s shouldered with the responsibility of continuing the firm’s tradition of winning the convention’s prestigious Two Diamonds award. Tim seems to be doing fine, until he befriends Dean Ziegler (John C. Reilly), a recently divorced party animal who wastes no time in getting Tim into all kinds of alcohol-fueled trouble.

“Cedar Rapids” seems slightly dead in the water for most of its opening sequences, as it sets up the plot and introduces its cast, which includes Isiah Whitlock Jr.’s laid-back Ronald and Anne Heche’s Joan. In these opening scenes, Helms’ pervasive awkwardness is played as too over-the-top to be truly funny. Once his character begins to loosen up and have some fun, the film does the same. Many of its best moments feature the four main characters bonding or engaging in drunken antics, such as a late-night dip in the hotel’s pool that gives Reilly his funniest scene.

As far as the cast goes, there’s not a weak link. Helms’ boundless enthusiasm never gets old, but the film’s final act lets him show off some impressive dramatic chops as well. Reilly plays his typical boisterous man-child here but continues to make his characters hilariously watchable..
Rounding out the supporting cast is Whitlock, who brings a low-key wittiness to his scenes and makes a few hilarious references that should have fans of his character in “The Wire” rolling with laughter. Anne Heche is uncharacteristically likable as Tim’s love interest, playing a character that feels like a grown-up version of the hipster dream girl that’s populated many a coming-of-age story.

Despite a weak start, “Cedar Rapids” steadily becomes funnier and more interesting. The story is pleasantly unpredictable, with things getting a bit darker than one would expect, but the film stays warm and endearing at its center.

“Cedar Rapids” isn’t the kind of movie that’s remembered during awards season. In fact, it will probably be forgotten by summer. Nonetheless, it’s a sweet, funny film with a few great performances, characters and a pleasant, under-the-radar surprise that’s absolutely worth checking out.