Good comic policy in the American office
WHEN THE top dog at Brownstar Insurance dies in an erotic asphyxiation accident, it falls to naive underling Tim Lippe (Helms) to represent the Wisconsin annex at the annual convention in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.
Lippe is a small-town boy whose only grown-up pursuits involve vaguely Oedipal romps with his former middle-school teacher (Sigourney Weaver).
He can scarcely fathom the glamour of the midwestern business centre that awaits him. He waves cheerfully at the low-rent prostitute at the entrance; he gazes across the chlorine pool and sees an exotic idyll; he looks aghast when the concierge asks to swipe his credit card for incidentals.
Can this hapless hero possibly retain Brownstar’s Blue Diamond award for the third year running? Not if Lippe’s partying colleagues have any say in the matter.
Ronald Wilkes (Isiah Whitlock jnr) proves a dependable type, however, once Lippe has recovered from the initial shock of having to room with him – “There’s an Afro-American standing in my room”. But Anne Heche’s happy slapper Joan and John C Reilly’s voluble vulgarian Dean Zeigler will insist on leading their new friend into all sorts of shenanigans.
There’s a lot of The Hangover’s strange alchemy in Cedar Rapids, and it’s not just the Ed Helms connection.
One minute, crazed redneck bikers are chasing the central quartet, prompting Whitlock to affect his best Omar impression (“Hey! I am straight up gangster and always keep one in the chamber, in case you ponder it”). The next, Lippe is relating the genuinely poignant tale of how he started at Brownstar.
No matter how bawdy Reilly gets – “What’s the matter friend, have you never seen a chocolate-vanilla love sandwich before?” – director Miguel Arteta keeps it real with the same flair for low-key comic Americana he once brought to The Good Girl and Chuck & Buck.
Lippe, though a country mouse in brown clothes, is no mere stooge, but a sweet guy who genuinely believes in his calling.
The results aren’t quite Mike-Tyson-with-a-tiger funny, but they will surely please fans of The Office and insurance sales agents the world over.
Office politics: Isiah Whitlock jnr, John C Reilly and Ed Helms