*** (out of four)
Small-town Wisconsin insurance salesman Tim Lippe (Ed Helms) takes his first-ever plane ride to an annual conference in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, where he’s expected to maintain his company’s status as a Two-Diamond award-winner. Tim’s out of his comfort zone, though, and falls in with overzealous loudmouth Dean (John C. Reilly), soft-spoken but social fan of “The Wire” Ronald (Isiah Whitlock Jr. of “The Wire,” ha) and flirtatious mother-of-two Joan (Anne Heche), who sees Cedar Rapids the way most people see Vegas.
The buzz: Director Miguel Arteta would do well to reel in the sloppiness of his last effort, “Youth in Revolt.” Regardless, it’s great to see Helms (“The Office,” “The Hangover”) being promoted to movie star.
The verdict: Tim’s never been anywhere or learned about himself, and “Cedar Rapids” provides an increasingly warm opportunity to watch an uptight guy discover what principles he’s willing to compromise and which ones aren’t up for debate. He begins as 50 percent personality; Dean’s 150 percent. Their always-amusing yin/yang (Reilly’s never been more brash yet irresistible) is a clinic in proving that first impressions aren’t always the right impressions. First-time screenwriter Phil Johnston sometimes works too hard to up the quirk factor in “Cedar Rapids,” but the grasp of its characters never wavers. This foursome has better, funnier chemistry than the gang in “The Hangover,” and Tim’s only known them for a couple days.
Did you know? Tim indicates that he doesn’t trust people with ponytails. Unfortunately he doesn’t explain the origin of that bias, but it might be more fun to guess.