Having roots in Iowa, I had high hopes (but only middling expectations) for Cedar Rapids, an R-rated comedy about insurance salesmen at a convention in the title city. The movie inspires a few laughs, but doesn’t live up to hopes or expectations.
Ed Helms ( The Hangover) plays Tim Lippe and looks not so much like Steve Carell as the poster to The 40-Year-Old Virgin. Tim sells insurance in Brown Valley, Wisconsin. He really admires his boss (Stephen Root) and his office’s top salesguy who dies in a very early scene. Wide-eyed Tim has small-time greatness thrust upon him when he is asked to fill in at the convention in Cedar Rapids for his fallen colleague.
R for crude and sexual content, language and drug use
At the convention, Tim rooms with Ronald (Isiah Whitlock Jr., The Wire) who loves The Wire and Dean-Z (John C. Reilly) whom his boss warned him about. They also welcome ever-ready Joan (Anne Heche) into their clique. Cedar Rapids is a comedy of characters with the four friends navigating the convention’s mostly extracurricular activities.
Tim is such a naïve dork that the film is ultimately about him coming of age. Before his transformation, he believes that sex is love, people are what they say they are, and that insurance agents are heroes. His speech about insurance agents, delivered in front of a once-flooded river, is actually quite touching and genuine.
His friends are dorky too, but not naïve. They’re happy to school Tim on the pleasures of drinking, swearing, and fooling around away from spouses and kids. They’re the comic foils to Kurtwood Smith’s disapproving, fatherly president of the insurance association.
There are a few laughs to be had in Cedar Rapids, but there could have been more if the characters had been more convincing. “Comedy has to be based on truth,” as they say. But the characters in Cedar Rapids aren’t human beings; they’re from a species called “homo Midwesternus” — different from you and me in taste and gullibility. It can be fun to revel in the stereotypes, but it gets old. And because we laugh at the characters for so long, it’s hard to share in their little victory at the end.
When Garrison Keillor, Stuff White People Like, and Alexander Payne (a producer here) zing the heartland, they usually hit their mark. Cedar Rapids takes it one step too far — not “insensitive” too far, just “doesn’t-ring-true” too far.