So there we were in Newcastle with a few hours to kill and the local multiplex cinema beckoning. The only trouble was that there was virtually nothing being offered on its many screens that we particularly wanted to see. The above movie which has just opened and which received pleasant enough reviews (if not particularly scintillating ones) seemed to be the least offensive option and did indeed provide a pleasant enough timekiller. This is not to say that I would go so far as to commend the film to your attention, but if ever you need to kill a few hours, you could do far worse.
The director, Miguel Arteta, has made several gentle films like "Star Maps" (1997), "Chuck and Buck" (2000) , and "The Good Girl" (2002) -- possibly Jennifer Anniston's best movie, which showed potential talent for dealing with flawed and complex characters. This film continues his run. Ed Helms, whom I only know from "The Hangover" but who came to fame in the U.S. version of "The Office", stars as Tim Lippe, a naive and gormless insurance salesman from the back of beyond burg of Brown Valley. Wisconsin. He's involved in an energetic sexual affair with the older and more sophisticated Sigourney Weaver (who was his 7th grade teacher). From his viewpoint she's his potential fiancee and his one true love; from hers, six months after her divorce, he's one of several randy youngsters helping her make up for lost time. However Lippe is too inexperienced to understand this and totally relies upon her approval.
When the insurance company's best sales rep blots his copy book, Lippe's boss sends him to represent the firm at the regional convention, giving him a long list of 'dos' and 'don'ts', and entrusting him to obtain the Two-Diamond award for their office for the fourth consecutive year. The conference is being held in the eponymous Cedar Rapids, Iowa, which is hardly New York, London, or Paris, but which represents the height of sophistication to Lippe who has never before flown anywhere and who barely knows what a credit card is for. There he meets his 'roomies' earnest Isiah Whitlock, Jr. and John C. Reilly's sex-mad Ziegler, whom he was specifically instructed to avoid. Together with their gal-pal from other conventions, Anne Heche, they do their best not so much to lead him astray, but to unwind him. When the lifelong teetotaller is shamed into social drinking, he frantically scans the available bottles and ends up overdosing on cream sherry. That is just the start of the hijinks in which they involve him, including Heche-sex (and she's a married lady), drug-taking, fisticuffs, and having to bribe the regional Mr. Big (a supposedly upright and uptight Kurtwood Smith) to retain the big award. As an indication of how parochial the whole deal actually is, $1600 in traveller's cheques is sufficient to secure the coveted prize. We're not talking big time anything in Cedar Rapid's bright lights.
The film is mildly entertaining and completely watchable, without being hee-haw hilarious. Reilly does his usual shtick and helps to carry the action as poor little Tim finds himself getting in over his head. Of course, those of us who are actually good at heart (like him) will see their virtue rewarded in the final reel and the baddies will reap their comeuppance. One loose end, a sub-plot featuring a local whore Bree, is left dangling, when there was a strong suggestion that she just might be redeemed by our hapless hero. However this is soon forgotten as the movie wraps up its other strands in its attempt to leave us with a 'feel-good' resolution for its likeable players.