You can feel the fish-out-of-water tale “Cedar Rapids” stretching for quirkiness, but it never stretches quite far enough.
Still, it’s an amusing, charming, harmless flick, driven by a spot-on, wide-eyed performance from Ed Helms (of “The Hangover” and TV’s “The Office,” coming into his own with his first starring vehicle). The film was a hit earlier this year at the Sundance Film Festival; its limited release brings it to Wichita today.
Helms plays Tim Lippe, an employee at a small-town Wisconsin insurance company who is having a fling with his former seventh-grade teacher (a game Sigourney Weaver). He thinks it’s love, she knows it clearly is not.
But Tim’s naivete doesn’t stop there — he has never left his hometown. So it more than scares him when he is directed by his boss to represent the insurance company at a convention in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.
Tim reluctantly goes. When he arrives at the hotel, he meets his roommates — the straight-laced Ronald (Isiah Whitlock Jr.) and the outlandish Dean Ziegler (a perfect John C. Reilly), who are convention veterans and know the lay of the land.
They all run into Joan (Anne Heche), a flirty convention veteran herself, who piques Tim’s interest.
But trouble brews as Tim’s emotions swirl, a coveted award is up for grabs at the convention, and danger lurks at a party Tim stumbles into.
While “Cedar Rapids” is funny, it’s not a laugh-a-minute riot, and that’s OK. It’s content to remain low-key.
Its plot unfolds in the same way. But Helms keeps us engaged in what is essentially a coming-of-age story. It plays to his comedic strengths, but also lets him bring a sweetness to the role. He’s innocent, not stupid.
“Cedar Rapids” isn’t captivating entertainment, but it’s time comfortably spent. Much like its central character, it’s unassuming and just nice.
Rating: R (crude and sexual content, language and drug use)
Starring: Ed Helms, John C. Reilly, Anne Heche
Directed by: Miguel Arteta
Showing at: Warren Theatre (east)