Monday, November 8, 2010

Movie Review: Due Date

Due Date ***
Directed by:
Todd Phillips
Written By: Alan R. Cohen & Alan Freedland and Adam Sztykiel & Todd Phillips.
Starring: Robert Downey Jr. (Peter Highman), Zach Galifianakis (Ethan Tremblay), Michelle Monaghan (Sarah Highman), Jamie Foxx (Darryl), Juliette Lewis (Heidi), Danny McBride (Lonnie), RZA (Airport Screener).

I think I could watch Robert Downey Jr. in just about anything. Right now, there is no other actor out there who is as consistently entertaining as Downey is. And pairing him up with Zach Galifianakis was a stroke of genius. Downey’s penchant for playing misanthropic characters meshes wonderfully well with Galifianakis comedy of the completely self-unaware. The two characters get thrown together on one of those cross country road trips that only ever seems to happen in the movies, and watching them together was a treat.

In Due Date, Downey plays an architect trying to get home from Atlanta to LA for the birth of his first child in four days (they have a C-Section scheduled). It shouldn’t be a problem, as he has a plane ticket and even gets on the plane. But then he meets Galifianakis – who screws everything up, somehow gets them both thrown off the plane, and put on the no fly list. Worse still, Downey has lost his wallet – meaning he has no way of renting a car, buying a train of bus ticket – anything. And since he has no ID, his wife cannot even wire him money. And that is when he meets Galifianakis again – he has rented a car, and is heading to LA to become an actor. Begrudgingly, Downey agrees to take the trip across the country with him.

Due Date is a standard issue cross country road trip comedy. It will undoubtedly remind viewers of John Hughes’s best film (and yes, it is his best by a mile) Planes, Trains and Automobiles with Downey playing the Steve Martin role and Galifianakis as John Candy. Due Date is not a classic comedy like that film is, but it is worthy of at least being mentioned alongside of it.

Expectations were high for this film, as it is the first that director Todd Philips has made since his own classic comedy – The Hangover – last year, and reteams him with Galifianakis, who was the best part of that film. While Due Date is not the laugh producer The Hangover was – few films are – I’m not even sure it was trying to be. This is a comedy about these two men, who the film defines so well, and their journey. It is a comedy of discomfort and awkward situations – ones that make you cringe as much as laugh. I’m not sure if either Downey or Galifianakis were really challenged by their roles here – they have played similar roles before – but they seem to be enjoying themselves a great deal. And a lot of humor is drawn out of the supporting characters who come in for a scene along the way – RZA as a profane customs agent at the airport, Juliette Lewis playing a Juliette Lewis-esque (and yes, I think she has earned that phrase) drug dealer, Danny McBride as a Western Union agent and Jamie Foxx as an old boyfriend of Downey’s wife (who may still be in love with her). Poor Michelle Monaghan, who is a gifted actress in her own right, plays what is essentially the same role whatever actress had in The Hangover playing the missing guys fiancĂ©e – sitting on the phone growing increasingly worried and angry at her missing partner.

Due Date doesn’t really do anything new or different. And it doesn’t have quite the same emotional resonance of Planes, Trains and Automobiles (they try, but they don’t come close to matching John Candy’s wonderful speech that starts “My family likes me…). Yet watching the movie I was constantly entertaining – constantly engaged with the characters – who the two leads do a great job with. Due Date is not as good as The Hangover or Planes, Trains and Automobiles. That much is undeniable. But then so few comedies can reach the heights of either of those movies, that holding them to that standard is probably unrealistic. Due Date does what it does well – it made me laugh, and an unnecessary masturbation sight gag aside – didn’t make me feel guilty about it in the morning.

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