Cedar Rapids

A modest comedy that springs indecently funny surprises, Cedar Rapids drops Midwestern
insurance hustlers into a sales conference in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. It's whoo-hoo time for Tim Lippe (Ed Helms), a Wisconsin man-child getting his first taste of bright lights, big city. It sounds like a recipe for cheap, condescending gags. Thanks to a tartly observed script by Phil Johnston and direction from the gifted Miguel Arteta that stays attuned to the sadness and pain that seep in between the cracks, Cedar Rapids is both hilarious and heartfelt. It's also powered by a dream cast, led by the outstanding Helms. The scene-stealer of The Office and The Hangover turns the hapless Lippe into someone to root for.

The 10 Best Movies of 2010

Lippe is rooming with two sales reps, amiable Ronald (The Wire's Isiah Whitlock Jr. is a deadpan delight) and party animal Deansie (John C. Reilly in a nonstop-laugh zone). Adding spice is Joan Ostrowski-Fox (Anne Heche), who uses the conference to forget – for a weekend – the husband and kids she adores. It's a complex, morally tricky role, and Heche plays it with fire and feeling – she's a knockout. The plot is a race to win an award that requires ass-kissing the Christian right. But it's the characters who provide liftoff. Cedar Rapids had me smiling at hello. As Deansie might say of such comic gold, "It's the tits."

Peter Travers reviews Cedar Rapids in his weekly video series, "At the Movies With Peter Travers."