CEDAR RAPIDS directed by Miguel Arteta, written by Phil Johnston, with Ed Helms, John C. Reilly, Anne Heche, Sigourney Weaver and Isiah Whitlock Jr. A Fox Searchlight release. 86 minutes. Opens Friday (February 11). For venues, trailers and times, see Movies. Rating: NN
Ed Helms gives great dolt.
He does this thing with his neck when he gets enthusiastic about something that makes it look like he's actually swelling up with excitement; it's like seeing a cocker spaniel discover an unattended steak. And when that enthusiasm curdles into panic, it's even funnier.
Helms panics a lot in Cedar Rapids, a middling comedy that casts him as Tim Lippe, a beaming small-town insurance salesman who travels to Iowa for a convention and finds himself confronted by all the writhing debauchery of the big city. In this case, that involves getting drunk and sneaking into the pool area after midnight at the insistence of his party-animal roommate (John C. Reilly).
It's a reliable set-up for farce, but somehow Cedar Rapids never breaks free of its influences to establish its own rhythm. The sales-convention-as-bacchanal was summed up in a few brief scenes in Up In The Air, and the rest of the office details have been done at length by Helms himself on The Office.
As he did with last year's Youth In Revolt, director Miguel Arteta has assembled a terrific comic cast and simply left his actors hanging. I wouldn't have thought it possible for Reilly to give a bad performance as a glad-handing, openly contemptuous douchebag - he knocked a similar role out of the park a couple of years ago in the underrated corporate comedy The Promotion - but he's a constant annoyance here.
Anne Heche has some nice moments as a saleswoman who uses the convention as a vacation from herself, but her character plays like an amalgam of Vera Farmiga's Up In The Air adulteress and Amy Ryan's Office character, Holly Flax.
An attempt at a meta-joke, casting The Wire's Isiah Whitlock Jr. as a character who's a fan of his own show, fails to pay off.
Cedar Rapids is so smug and secure in its own comic sophistication that it sits back and waits for you to appreciate it. It might be a while.