REVIEWED: DUE DATE
November 6, 2010 Leave a comment
Something of a golden boy in Hollywood since his latest comedy, The Hangover, was a colossal hit (becoming the highest-grossing R-rated comedy of all time), Todd Phillips now seems to be the go-to-guy for stories of debauchery involving underdeveloped man-children. Attempting to recoup the success of his previous hit, Phillips leans in for a double-dip – though not yet in the impending Hangover sequel – but instead in Due Date, a strangely similar work structurally and stylistically to The Hangover, but an ultimately underwhelming go-around that’s neither as funny or clever despite good work from the cast.
Peter Highman (Robert Downey Jr.) is on his way home to be with his pregnant wife, Sarah (Michelle Monaghan) when, through a series of ridiculous events, he winds up ejected from his flight home and stranded at the airport without his wallet. His saviour, however, is the very man who caused him this trouble in the first place; fledgling actor Ethan Tremblay (Zach Galifianakis), an overweight, scruffy idiot of a man who offers Peter a ride home. Begrudgingly, Peter accepts, though soon finds himself questioning the decision, as Ethan’s motor-mouth and frequent pit-stops (most often to buy drugs) quickly become infuriating.
More than capable of becoming the Planes, Trains and Automobiles of this generation – Downey and Galifianakis can sure measure up to Steve Martin and John Candy respectively – yet Due Date is more of a retread in most respects of Phillips’ previous hit, lazily recycling the structure without much variation, and hoping that the charm of its cast will see it through. That it often does is a testament to the chemistry between Downey and Galifianakis, but this is a film difficult to characterise as more than lukewarm because it is just such a cynically off-the-cuff, intermittently funny, occasionally affecting effort that doesn’t reflect Phillips’ best work by any means.
Galifianakis plays pretty much a reprise of his Hangover character – a lump-headed moron, exaggerated further here to the point that some may find him just too idiotic to like – while Downey, undertaking one of his rare card-carrying comedy roles, is a solid straight foil; very much the Steve Martin of the equation. That isn’t to say that Downey’s Peter is a total grouch; he becomes increasingly imbued with a belly of embitterment that results in several memorable one-liners (“I despise you on a cellular level”), and has to remain likeable enough for the inevitable emotional payoff to work.
Moreso than The Hangover, Phillips attempts to give the heart a work-out as well as the gut, and though incredibly projected, it is an earnest enough conceit to work; Ethan has daddy issues, while Peter just wants to see the birth of his child, yet each is sent up with enough good, edgy humour that things don’t become too mired in treacly drama despite a few near misses.
To Phillips’ credit, the film zips along at such a ramshackle race – running in at a brisk 95 minutes – that many of its misfires likely go unnoticed. Phillips directs the madness with his signature snappy pacing, such that we’re never forced to glance upon the same locale or quirky character for more than a few minutes. Thus, the scenes and situations that work – such as a hilariously dead-pan cameo from Danny McBride as a Western Union booth attendant with a trick up his sleeve – don’t wear themselves out, and the flat ones rarely become too frustrating.
How much you’ll enjoy Due Date depends more on your esteem for the leads rather than the quality of the screenplay; it is a mess of emotions and situations, working more than not, though tainted by that air of laziness that the entire production invites. Downey especially is rather good, though, and Galifianakis isn’t trailing too far behind. Simply, don’t rush out to see it, but when you do, some boozy accompaniments will sit right at home with it.