Ed Helms plays the squarest dude in America, a small town Wisconsin insurance salesman who is sent to a modest industry convention in the "Big City": Cedar Rapids, Iowa, population 126,000. It's clear from the get-go that the story will be this wide-eyed innocent's journey along the road of excess to the palace of wisdom, but once you settle in, it's a sweet if unambitious little comedy.
Helms is sort of the poor man's Steve Carell, but he lacks Carell's charisma. He's a decent actor, but he appears uncomfortable as a leading man, and he's consistently upstaged by an endearing if unlikely supporting cast consisting of the reliable John C. Reilly, the surprisingly good Anne Heche, and a refreshing turn by The Wire's Isiah Whitlock Jr. as fellow conventioneers.
Cedar Rapids seems to want to be an Alexander Payne film – in fact, Payne and his filmmaking partner Jim Taylor serve as producers – but it doesn't capture the satire, smarts, or even grace of Payne's work. If Cedar Rapids doesn't achieve greatness, the blame rests on the shoulders of screenwriter Phil Johnston, making his feature debut. He's created likable characters and solid dialogue, but his plot veers too often into Hollywood sentimentality.
Still, Cedar Rapids is a pleasant enough time at the movies, with a few good laughs. Don't ask too much of it, and it won't ask too much of you.