Like its protagonist, Cedar Rapids has its heart in the right place. But this clumsy comedy about a small-town insurance agent (Ed Helms) being corrupted by the big(ish) city opts for tired situations rather than trusting its characters to generate honest laughs. The enthusiastic cast, which in addition to Helms includes John C. Reilly (the loudmouth perv), Isiah Whitlock Jr. (the corny avuncular type), Anne Heche (the plot-convenient love interest), Alia Shawcat (the plot-convenient love interest hooker) and Sigourney Weaver (the cougar/mentor) can’t make the screenplay by Phil Johnston sing. Director Miguel Arteta (Chuck & Buck) has directed Ed Helms on The Office, and he should have paid more attention to how that show manages to wring more pathos out of Helms’ naïveté in three minutes than this film manages in 84.
The movie had potential. There are certainly some resonances to our current economic situation vis á vis corrupt institutions and the corporatizing of personal relationships. But Cedar Rapids‘ attempt to examine the repression of the insurance industry — the sales force must appear trustworthy and sober even though the events they protect against are random and devastating — never quite adds up to a parable.
Not that I was expecting the film to be mentally stimulating; I was expecting some laughs. Disappointingly, almost every joke was predicated on some schoolboy obscenity I had heard before. I prefer my schoolboy obscenities to be verbally imaginative and, while I’d like to think my sense of humor is generous enough to encompass John C. Reilly lighting his own fart on fire, I guess it isn’t. If yours is, no offense. And in that case, let me recommend you stay through the credits of the film, where you can see such an act performed. For me, this fart of a film never caught flame.