November 04, 2010

Due Date

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A movie review by James Berardinelli



Due Date

COMEDY:

United States, 2010

U.S. Release Date:

2010-11-05

Running Length:

1:40

MPAA Classification:

R (Profanity, Sexual Content)

Theatrical Aspect Ratio:

2.35:1

Cast:

Robert Downey Jr., Zach Galifianakis, Michelle Monaghan, Jamie Foxx

Director:

Todd Phillips

Screenplay:

Alan R. Cohen & Alan Freedland and Adam Sztykiel & Todd Phillips

Cinematography:

Lawrence Sher

Music:

Christophe Beck

U.S. Distributor:

Warner Brothers

Subtitles:

none


Reuniting director Todd Phillips with the actor whose name no one can pronounce (the inimitable Zach Galifianakis) would seem to represent an excellent cornerstone for another laugh-till-you-drop comedy. Add Robert Downey Jr., possibly the best American thespian working today, and Due Date's prospects would seem to be stratospheric. Sadly, this movie is proof that pedigree doesn't mean everything. At best, this cross-country road trip movie feels like a warmed over update of Planes, Trains and Automobiles with heavy doses of raunchiness patching the holes left by the affability of John Candy and the screen chemistry enjoyed by Candy and co-star Steve Martin. Phillips seems to have forgotten that bawdy comedy is only deemed "edgy" if it's funny. When the seedy jokes fall flat, the result is crass.

That's not to argue that Due Date is never funny. There are some sequences, including one in which a dog imitates its master in inappropriate behavior and another in which Iron Man shows how a superhero deals with an unruly kid, that hint at what Due Date could have been had it pushed the comedy envelope a little farther (as The Hangover did). But the film's determination to spend time on failed relationship building between the two mismatched main characters and its unwillingness to veer away from the standard-order warm fuzzy ending make Due Date unremarkable.

The film opens in Atlanta with Peter Highman (Robert Downey Jr.) about to catch a flight home to Los Angeles, where his pregnant wife, Sarah (Michelle Monaghan), is hoping his return will precede the arrival of their first child. From the moment Peter steps out of the cab at the airport, things start going wrong. Murphy has arrived in the person of Ethan Tremblay (Zach Galifianakis), whose annoying friendliness and refusal to avoid words like "terrorist" and "bomb" while on board an aircraft result in Peter not only being forcibly removed from the plane by air marshals but put on the "no fly" list. Worse, with his wallet still at his vacated seat, he has no credit cards, cash, or I.D. That's when Ethan comes to the rescue, offering Peter a ride to L.A. Not long after the trip from hell has begun, Peter will wish that he had imitated Forrest Gump and made the journey on foot.

The best way to illustrate the central flaw in Due Date is by making a comparison with Planes, Trains and Automobiles. The contrast is warranted since Due Date exists somewhere between an homage to the John Hughes film and an unofficial remake. Although it's true that no trains have starring roles, two have cameos. It's hard to imagine anyone with reasonable movie experience not emerging from Due Date to remark that it was better when it was called Planes, Trains and Automobiles. Instead of going the John Candy route of setting Ethan up as a loveable loser, this screenplay reduces him to a detestable irritant - a mosquito bite on the head of a zit. The film's attempts to soften Ethan and provide an emotional component to his back story fail. They, like the obligatory relationship that develops between him and Peter, reek of Hollywood artifice. The key component that elevated Planes, Trains and Automobiles - the chemistry between Steve Martin and John Candy - never materializes in Due Date. The interaction between Downey and Galifianakis shows no warmth and little depth.

This is not Robert Downey Jr. at his best. Admittedly, playing the straight man in a raunchy, sophomoric comedy is not the most challenging or fulfilling job, but Downey brings less verve to it than he has to any recent role, including that of Tony Stark. Galifianakis deserves points for generating as much audience dislike as he does. One supposes he borrowed tips from Steve Carell, his co-star in Dinner for Schmucks. Carell's character in that movie and Galifianakis' in this one are essentially the same individual with an identical critical personality trait: they are irritating beyond belief. Jamie Foxx, Downey's co-star in The Soloist, makes an appearance that is more in the nature of an extended cameo than a supporting part.

Due Date is not without humor, but it lacks the explosive spontaneity of The Hangover. The script is not as clean or crisp and some of the funnier moments appear to have been shoehorned into the final production since they have no bearing on the movie's trajectory (a perfect example being Peter's method of dealing with an unruly child). Due Date also suffers from the listless, formulaic pattern that characterizes many road films, both in terms of how the characters relate to each other and how events unfold. One of the delights of The Hangover was its total unpredictability. One could argue that Due Date asks the question of how much laughter can be wrung out of an overly familiar story. The answer, at least in this case, is: not enough to justify paying the price of a full theatrical admission.

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