Robert Downey Jr., Zach Galifianakis, Michelle Monaghan, Juliette Lewis, Jamie Foxx, Danny McBride, RZA, Matt Walsh
(Warner Bros.; US theatrical: 5 Nov 2010 (General release); UK theatrical: 5 Nov 2010 (General release); 2010)
That sound you hear is not audiences roaring with laughter. Instead, it’s the unusual noise of a some talented artists flailing around aimlessly. As the pools of flop sweat grow, memories of much better movies by director Todd Phillips - Old School and last year’s smash The Hangover - battle it out with lesser examples of his comedic muse (Starsky and Hutch, School for Scoundrels). If humor were based solely on the slow burn rage and manic outbursts running rampant through a project, Due Date would be the funniest film since Steve Martin and John Candy took a bunch of planes, trains, and automobiles to a sentimental Thanksgiving end. Instead, this is a sloppy Shakespearean tragedy, full of forced sound and fury, and in the end, signifying a wasted 90 minutes of movie stock nothingness.
After mumbling the words “bomb” and “terrorist” several times, angry architect Peter Highman (Robert Downey Jr.) and clueless rube actor wannabe Ethan Tremblay (freak show flavor of the moment Zach Galifianakis) are kicked off their Atlanta to LA flight and (plot conveniently enough), are placed on the “No-Fly” list. This means they both have at find another way back to California. Peter needs to get their quickly - his wife (Michelle Monaghan) is about to give birth to their first child. Ethan has a meeting with an agent, and hopefully, a shot at a starring role on his dream series - Two and a Half Men?
Narrative contrivance places the jerk-ass type A personality Peter in a rental car with the oddball thesp and his masturbating dog, and together the trio meet up with several lonesome highway cliches, including a hippy chick pot dealer (Juliette Lewis), an angry vet Western Union agent (Danny McBride) and some less than professional Mexican policemen. Along the way, we get moments of dark slapstick, nonstop babble revolving around problematic personality flaws, and so many unanswered questions and screenplay loopholes that you eventually believe the four writers involved in the script really had no idea where to take this material.
Due Date is a drag. It’s a stone cold drag. It’s the kind of movie that you and your mates turn the sound down on and say rude things to. It wastes the talents of everyone involved and then tries to trick you into thinking its clever with a series of mannered marketing tag lines. “From the director of…” may get you some initial butts in the seats, but you don’t earn Hangover box office by fooling the faithful on opening weekend. A hit comedy keeps you coming back for more, to see scenes and situations that had you doubled over in hysterics the first time around. With this movie, fans of Robert Downey Iron Man Jr. and the ‘zany’ Zach G will definitely be lining up. After that group, the ticket sales sky is very limited indeed.
Wit remains a matter of preference. Some like the sophistication and pep of an old fashioned screwball comedy. Others want the see Johnny Knoxville smash Bam Margera in the face with a giant hand. Akin to taste in music and brussels sprouts, finding an universally clever laughfest is rare indeed. So all Due Date has to accomplish is some selective spoofing. Find the area or two which makes enough people snicker and you’re set. Instead, Phillips foils his intentions time and time again. Take the set-up. We never fully understand why Downey is so pissy, while Galifianakis is so dim, and how the two of them are perceived as a threat by the airlines. A couple of Davorcet and everyone would have been in L.A. toot sweet. Instead, we have to find a way to prolong this pair’s mutual non-admiration society, and so it’s car jamming time.
Once we get in the vehicle, things are no better. Downey is still pissy, Galifianakis grows even dopier, and their various dumb decisions and vague exchanges are supposed to have us giggling like Japanese school girls. But Due Date is a comedy without real punchlines, where situations nor character consistently deliver a level of recognizable outrageousness. Both men - and the actors essaying them - appear to be holding back. Even when required to curse like a sailor, they seemed hemmed in by an idea that, perhaps, the studio could still swing a MPAA friendly PG-13 out of all this. There is nothing here like The Hangover‘s brilliant post-Ruffie scavenger hunt - consequences known with causes needing to be sought out. The most we get here is Downey’s doubts about his wife’s fidelity (thanks to a rather pointless cameo by Jamie Foxx) and Galifianakis’ real love for his dead father.
It’s a testament to everyone involved that, while definitely not sidesplitting, Due Date is not unwatchable. Phillips keeps things moving even when he doesn’t have anywhere particularly rib tickling to go. For his part, Downey does a decent job of playing frazzled and frayed, though we’re not quite sure why he creates so many problems for himself. Galifianakis on the other hand is a little lost. Previously, he could invest even the most mundane line with a flippant farcical charm. Here, having to do most of the movie’s heavy humor lifting, he resorts back to his standard confrontational stand-up style. In small doses, with definite non-sequitor one liners, it usually succeeds. But unlike his terrific Funny or Die “talk show” Between Two Ferns, there are very few chuckles here.
With The Hangover 2 being prepped for a Summer 2011 assault and the ample goodwill previously earned by everyone involved, Due Date will not be a career killer but a minor misguided blip on the road to further cinematic glories. There are individual moments that show promise and the age old adage that biology solves everything is still alive and well. On the other hand, we except a lot more out of Phillips, Downey, and Galifianakis and perhaps an unrated extended director’s cut DVD will illustrate what the three of them could accomplish if given the chance. As of now, all we have to work with is this slight, insignificant effort. There is nothing wrong with cashing in some of your commercial cred to bank a little available industry coin. In the case of Due Date, however, you shouldn’t invite innocent viewers along for the ride.