You get not one but two comedies with this tale of a small-town insurance agent (Helms) getting into wacky misadventures during a weekend conference in the titular city. (Whoa, two comedies? you can hear the film's sheltered, super-square hero saying, being the kind of guy who gets wide-eyed over hotel pools or free peanuts on airplanes. Awesome!) One is a wry study of everyday people---a speciality of executive producer Alexander Payne---where even the kitschiest Americana touches and khaki-wearing provincial rubes are treated with amused affection. Here, the tacky decor of a chain-hotel bar doubles as social anthropology and a visual gag.
The other is an attempt at a frat-pack gut-buster, in which the guy from The Hangover accidentally smokes crack, gets into fistfights and endures humiliation from a foul-mouthed alpha-male, played by Will Ferrell's usual foil (Reilly, in prime macho-stupid mode). One minute, our hero is smitten with a hot fellow conventioneer (Heche) and the sense that a world exists outside the cloistered safety of his usual Podunk existence. The next, naked men are hugging at inappropriate moments, and people are talking loudly about their beer-shits at breakfast.
So is Cedar Rapids a tarted-up look at the quiet desperation of Midwestern males in a mundane world, or more of a kinder, gentler gross-out? Director Miguel Arteta (Chuck and Buck) never really makes up his mind, nor does he fuse these two styles together into anything resembling a coherent hybrid. Instead, the movie just ping-pongs between empathetic chuckles at Helms's charming social awkwardness and putting him through a raunchfest ringer. Occasionally, Arteta milks a laugh and a life lesson out of the comic schizophrenia. Then you go back to checking your watch.
Watch the trailer