With an ensemble cast featuring some of Hollywood’s current comedy greats, you’d expect Cedar Rapids to fit the trendy mold of star Ed Helms’ The Hangover or supporting player Rob Corddry’s Hot Tub Time Machine. It instead takes a much more subtle approach towards the misadventures of early middle-aged everymen that elicits light chuckles at its best and blank stares at its worst.
34-year-old insurance salesman Tim Lippe (Helms) is a mid-Western small-town dimwit who is dating his 7th grade teacher (Sigourney Weaver) and seems to have no grasp on the world at large. He is assigned the task of representing his agency at a Cedar Rapids insurance convention where he learns how to live life to its full potential over the course of a weekend. The film moves along briskly and is mostly contained within the walls of the host hotel. Its major comedic set pieces include a talent show, late night swimming, and, in a scene that feels like it’s from a much more ambitious film, a dangerous, redneck drug party. The humor is quaint, at times unsuccessfully vulgar, but always easy to digest thanks to a likable cast. Helms’ love interest is played by a surprisingly charming Anne Heche; his convention roommate buddies are Isiah Whitlock Jr. (from HBO’s The Wire as the character repeatedly reminds the viewer of in several inexplicable winks and nods) and John C. Reilly who overdoes it slightly as a silly drunk, but is still a treat, as always. That goes for the rest of the cast as well, which includes comedic television verterans Thomas Lennon (Reno 911), Stephen Root (NewsRadio), and Kurtwood Smith (That ’70s Show and Robocop, of course). Director Miguel Arteta (Chuck & Buck, The Good Girl…two of Cinedelphia’s modern faves) is coming off of 2009’s forgettable Youth In Revolt, another brisk, ultimately harmless watch. Arteta provides his protagonist with the director’s signature moments of introspection, the camera looms as Helms conveys his inner dilemmas through silent facial expressions. The film would have benefited from more of those indie-minded, revelatory-type moments. Or it could have instead gone the other way and joined the current crop of outrageous buddy-group comedies. Its chosen path however results in an easy breezy time killer that will play well on afternoon cable.
Cedar Rapids opens today at the Ritz East.