Making morons out of men isn’t some innovative concept in the comedy genre. If anything, man’s link to his Neanderthal ancestry has been magnified by the big screen ever since The Three Stooges in the ’30s (Chaplin did slapstick, but wasn’t an idiot). Just last year, Steve Carell in Dinner for Schmucks, Zach Galifianakis in Due Date, and the entire cast of Grown Ups and Jackass 3D proved the male species hasn’t evolved much, cinematically speaking.
Still, there are levels of stupidity and naivety that can make or break a character depending on the comedic execution and, of course, the joke itself. It doesn’t take a genius to see the differences in humor between Steve Martin bumbling around as Navin Johnson in The Jerk and Steve-O launching through the air in a shit-filled Port-O-Potty.
In Cedar Rapids, small-town insurance salesman Tim Lippe (Ed Helms) is the kind of hopeless buffoon you wouldn’t mind getting to know. His rite of passage comes when he is sent to Cedar Rapids, Iowa, to represent his company at an insurance convention, a sizeable step for Tim, who has never left his own backyard.
Playing an easily impressed, inoffensive man-child (much like Carell in 2005’s The 40-Year-Old Virgin), Helms’ deadpan wit is far from shtick. When Tim befriends a few convention veterans (a spazzy John C. Reilly included), Helms delivers some dialed-down, hilarious moments that never feel like second-rate gags. There is also never a point in Cedar Rapids where Tim grinds your nerves or overstays his welcome, which propels the story a couple tiers above a Saturday Night Live skit.
Sure, the film, which is directed by Miguel Arteta (who helmed last year’s underappreciated Youth in Revolt), is like watching a group of uncool adults on a lame high school senior trip they’re decades late for, but its Midwestern charm has a lot more going for it than most dummy comedies out there.
Dir. Miguel Arteta; writ. Phil Johnston; feat. Ed Helms, John C. Reilly, Anne Heche, Isiah Whitlock Jr., Sigourney Weaver, Stephen Root, Kurtwood Smith (R)