With Ed Helms starring in this tale of a straight dude running off the rails on a business trip, it is tempting to write this off as The Hangover Part III. But what makes Cedar Rapids tick is in how it carves out a space of its own between mainstream comedy and Sundance-style indie fare. Embracing the ridiculous and vulgar, Cedar Rapids makes you invest in all of its characters and refuses to teach them either an over-choreographed life lesson or follow them into the pits of comedic despair – both of which represent easy temptations when you’re talking a bunch of small town insurance agents.
You wouldn’t see this coming in the film’s first act, especially with John C. Reilly’s over-the-top Dean Ziegler, a crass boozer whom Helms’ character is specifically warned to avoid (and inevitably becomes roommates with). That director Miguel Arteta manages to create a believable character out of this fella is a testament to how he focuses on getting realistic performances out of his cast, even when they’re drunkenly walking into a swimming pool fully clothed with a rubbish bin lid on their head.
The ensemble cast is fantastic, with Kurtwood Smith a pleasure to see as ever and Isiah Whitlock Jr. (The Wire) turning in a great performance as an insurance agent quite fond of, um, the HBO television series The Wire. Whilst the film is carried by Helms, there are plenty of other folks for him to bump off and the end result is engagingly funny.