In “Cedar Rapids,” a new comedy from “Youth in Revolt” director Miguel Arteta, Ed Helms plays a small town schlub who goes to the big city of Cedar Rapids and discovers a purpose in life. Unfortunately for moviegoers along for the ride, in Cedar Rapids, to borrow a phrase from Gertrude Stein, there’s no there there.
Tim Lippe (Helms) has worked at Brown Star Insurance his entire professional life. He’s a child-man whose boss says looked like a “kid who’s gonna go places… and then you just didn’t.” Nonetheless, when the year’s biggest insurance festival comes around Tim is sent to Cedar Rapids to represent the company and, hopefully, bring back the coveted Two Diamond Award for insurance excellence. Once there he dives headlong into a cesspool of corruption, wanton sex and drug use and learns that whatever happens at an ASMI convention in Cedar Rapids should stay in Cedar Rapids.
“Cedar Rapids” is a Sundance comedy. That means its character based and not a laugh a minute. In fact, it’s not even a laugh every five minutes kind of movie. Some of the characters are nicely defined. Anne Heche’s Joan, for instance, is an interesting portrait of a woman living life on her own terms. John C. Reilly’s Doug, however, is a caricature of the worst conventioneer ever. It makes his work in his Will Ferrell movies, like “Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby” and “Step Brothers” seem nuanced. Add to that Ed Helm’s now standard awkward man-child routine and you have a cast of characters that don’t seem to belong in the same movie.
“Cedar Rapids” stays with its characters as they forge toward a feel good ending, the trouble is, since they don’t feel like real people we don’t really care what happens to them.