04 March 2011

Cedar Rapids

Anne Heche, left, and Ed Helms are shown in a scene from "Cedar Rapids."
"Cedar Rapids" is the rare movie that feels too short.

After a vastly entertaining 87 minutes, most of it in the title city at an annual convention of insurance salesmen, I wanted to spend more time with these characters—idealistic Tim Lippe (Ed Helms), who has never left his hometown of Brown City, Wis., and is positively giddy over his affair with his former junior high teacher (Sigourney Weaver); crude but surprisingly kind-hearted Dean "Deansy" Ziegler (John C. Reilly); friendly, supportive Ronald "Ronimal" Wilkes (Isiah Whitlock Jr.); and Joan Ostrowski-Fox (Anne Heche), who uses her weekend in Cedar Rapids as a yearly vacation from all aspects of her daily life.

Helms, known to fans of "The Office" and "The Hangover," takes on his first big-screen leading role with ease. He makes Tim so darn good-natured and likeable that you can't help but root for the guy.

All the characters begin as specific stereotypes, but in short order, Phil Johnston's script allows the actors to develop them into living, breathing people.

Comparisons to "The Hangover"—Tim quickly goes from being a non-drinker to reluctantly ordering a cream sherry to downing shots of whatever's put in front of him to doing drugs with his new friend, who happens to be a prostitute (Alia Shawkat)—are easy to make, but "Cedar Rapids" is much more character-based. The good-natured sincerity that starts with its lead character spreads out to engulf the entire film.

Director Miguel Arteta ("Youth in Revolt," "The Good Girl") briskly moves the movie along, yet never rushes the story. When I say it feels short, it's only because it's so amiable and the characters are so inviting.

Greg's Grade: A-

(Rated R for crude and sexual content, language and drug use. 87 minutes.)

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