Due Date

due-date-2

C+

If you haven’t seen Planes, Trains and Automobiles yet, I recommend you go to Netflix and have it shipped post-haste. Why? Because I don’t want to live in a world where people have seen Due Date and not Planes, Trains and Automobiles. I refuse to live in that cruel world. Due Date is a 21st century version of the John Hughes masterpiece. No, not officially, not by anything I have read, but it follows the same general paradigm.

The set up is simple: Peter Highman, an uptight, micron-fused architect in Atlanta needs to be in LA for the birth of his first child. Ethan Trembley, a disheveled, flighty, slacker — also in Atlanta — is headed to LA to pursue a career in acting, partly to make his now deceased father proud. Oh, and don’t forget the cute dog. There must always be a cute dog, or cute baby, or some other living prop the editor can cut to when the scene needs a quick laugh. This typical odd couple is forced by guilt and contrivance to travel together by any means but plane to L.A. High-jinks ensue.

There are plenty of laughs, but they all feel a little canned. They’re quick chuckles, jokes plunked down one after another with no thought or effect. I like Todd Phillips‘ work a lot. The Hangover was genuinely hilarious. But there are no “Fat Jesus” moments in Due Date. Instead of going for clever, the writers went with crude and obvious.

There is a genuine message about parenthood, what it means to be a father and the impact you have on your children, most of which is lost in the noise. A message like that doesn’t need to stand up and punch you in the face. This is, after all, a Todd Phillips movie. Its heart can’t be on the sleeve; it needs to be tucked away in that little pocket inside of a pocket. But still, that’s where Due Date whiffs. It misses that little piece of heart that transcends comedy and makes us feel.

Having said all that, Due Date is 100% worth seeing if you like Robert Downey Jr. and Zach Galifianakis. Downey Jr. plays a different character than we’ve grown accustomed to this past decade. Peter Highman is truly an unlikable guy. But we’re OK with it because we remember him also as Tony Stark and Sherlock Holmes. If this character were played by another actor, he might have just come off as grotesque and horrible. Instead, you find yourself saying, OK Iron Man, I forgive you for punching an 8-year-old kid.

Galifianakis is always likable and here, while annoying, still has that persevering charm that endears Ethan as bumbling rather than disturbed. The script allows a few moments for Galifianakis to show he’s more than a comedian, and he really acts his ass off. I could see him doing some more serious roles down the line.

I wasn’t looking for deep meaning or a fulfilling premise when I walked into the theater. But when a film teases and stretches towards those goals, I can’t help feeling a little disappointed when it fails to achieve them. Due Date, while derivative, does have a few worthy laughs and a smart chemistry between its costars. Do you need to rush out and see it in the theaters? No, this one can wait for DVD, but not until after this.

tags: robert downey jr., todd phillips, zach galifianakis

  • Aaron Pinkston

    Hey Noah — a very good review, and I agree with you on most of your major points. Except for one: I don’t think that either of the main characters are likable at all.

    Downey isn’t supposed to be likable, and the film does well enough to make that point across, but it doesn’t do enough to with his character in the end to make me care at all that he gets to his destination on time — and that has to be the point of the movie, right?

    For Galifiankis, he is mostly bumbly and dumb and I think there are glimpses into his character where we can connect (much more so than Downey), but there are other moments where he even comes across as cruel. I think the biggest example is when Downey is opening up to his experiences with his own father and Galifinakis unexplicably laughs in his face. This sort of joke has no place in the rest of his character. And although I think his “redemption” at the end is funny and sweet, what is the movie trying to tell us with this? Is he actually supposed to be a talented savant? And if so, why does the film point to laughing at him for the rest of the movie?

    Even still, there are certainly funny moments throughout and a few real genuine laugh-out-loud scenes. I would probably give it a C- with these extra character problems that I found in the film.

  • http://seankealey.net Noah Nickels

    aaron, you make some great points. Especially what you’re saying about Galifianakis’ character. I remember thinking it was odd when he laughed at Downey’s story. it was cruel, but he didn’t seem to know it or care. i struggle to believe the writers put as much thought into that scene as we are and were again just looking for a quick laugh, although i didn’t find that moment very funny.

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