Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Quick Look: CEDAR RAPIDS

Cedar Rapids, from director Miguel Arteta, is a small, amiable comedy about a tremendously naïve small-town insurance agent, played with likable innocence by Ed Helms, who heads off to the titular city for an insurance convention. The convention itself is an excuse to gather up characters with clashing personalities and let them bounce off of each other in funny ways. The focus of the comedy is a trio of insurance agents that befriend Helms, introducing him to the faster-paced life of mild debauchery and bars that stay open past 10 pm. This group includes a sweet but boring guy (Isiah Whitlock Jr.), a seemingly cold blonde with plenty of pantsuit allure (Anne Heche), and a boisterous, crude oaf (John C. Reilly). The friendship that develops between the four characters is sweetly handled and the actors, to their credit, don’t operate solely on the level of surface silliness. They find some of the deeper pain and inner struggles in their characters, especially Reilly who brings his usual expressive likability to a character that, in lesser hands, would be confined to simply playing the comic relief. Instead, the comic relief of the movie is the protagonist and Helms, though nice and amusing, can’t quite sell the character arc. (To be fair the script by Phil Johnston gives him very little chance to do so). Though it contains plenty of laughs, there’s never really a sense of comedic crescendo. The fast pace and light touch keep things moving along and the actors make for nice company, but with all of the talent involved I can’t help but be slightly disappointed that the end result seems less than vital. It’s an enjoyable night at the movies, and will make for nice future late-night television programming, but it doesn’t stick in mind the way better comedies do.

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