Planes, Trains and Automobiles, minus the trains

The latest jocular comedy from director Todd Phillips may not create momentous characters, but it’ll make you laugh

Galifianakis and Downey
Image supplied by: Supplied
Galifianakis and Downey

Movie: Due Date

Starring: Robert Downey, Jr. and Zach Galifianakis

Director: Todd Phillips

Writers: Alan R. Cohen, Alan Freedland and Adam Sztykiel

Duration: 100 mins

2.5 stars out of 4

Road genres in general seem to have expired beyond their due date.

Wild Hogs had little to add and it seems the last memorable scene in road movies refer to the abrupt conclusion to Hopper’s Easy Rider. But Due Date, a profane and more so sordidly jocular comedy by director Todd Phillips (The Hangover) is worth at least half your time.

It doesn’t provide much in the way of pay off, surprises or drama—it’s essentially John Hughes’ near comedic masterpiece Planes, Trains, and Automobiles, minus the trains. Downey, Jr. has the facetious, rather pomp demeanor to be Peter, the Steve Martin. Mr. Candy belongs to Zach Galifianakis, the clumsy, callous and naive goofball who Peter grows fond of in the end.

Galifianakis is Ethan Chase, or Ethan Tremblay (his acting alias). If you ask me, Chase sounds better. We could never exactly believe such a heavy-bearded oaf like himself could walk along the stars on Sunset Boulevard. Instead, he actually wants to premier on Two and a Half Men.

Peter’s had enough. When he first meets Ethan, they exchange bags accidentally, collide from stomach to muzzle, and one causes the other to be restrained by a rubber bullet.

So the 95-minute road trip commences. The goal? Peter needs to be home before his wife (Michelle Monaghan) has their baby. Phillips is brave enough to avoid cheap repetitions of slapstick and lets these two talented actors create characters from banter and chemistry.

Due Date tries to get you to root for these two vagrants. This is where Phillips’ new film halts slightly: co-writers Alan R. Cohen, Alan Freedland and Adam Sztykiel navigate their humour under Phillips’ comedic scope.

This director, who also directed Old School (one of my worst movies of 2003) and the aforementioned The Hangover is adamant on the dirty jokes. There’s too much swearing, perfunctory violence and nonsensical scenarios to make likable characters. I mean, the purpose of a road movie is to hope these characters make it down the road. Planes, Trains, and Automobiles instilled an emotional core about characters who appreciate each other because the road, metaphorically, was a path to their unexpected friendship. And it also ended on a startling realization about Candy’s character that made our jaws drop and our harsh judgments of his harebrained character dwindle.

Due Date forgets the purpose of these road comedies: as these characters travel down the road, their jokes and foils develop them into something we can accept. Comedy isn’t necessarily produced for solely laughs, but understanding is what makes these two characters funny and more importantly, worth our time.

Due Date doesn’t exactly accomplish this. But getting past that, it’s a pretty good time. Downey, Jr. and Galifianakis are a terrific duo who carve the screen with sharp timing. From the masturbating dog named Sonny to Ethan’s coffee container ashes to Peter’s, well, ‘Downeyness,’ Due Date delivers on the laughs. Jamie Foxx even makes an appearance as a long-time friend of Peter’s. They enjoy a nice brew of coffee together in a great scene, which, if you read a little beforehand, doesn’t end up being ‘coffee.’

The film doesn’t create great, worthy characters to follow; it’s as if they know the twosome of Downey and Galifianakis will be its selling point. They’re reason enough to see the movie.

I enjoyed the script for what it’s worth. It creates characters and doesn’t lazily induce scenarios to tell us nothing different or important for the sake of this road story. There’s maybe a few moments that drag out and stretch out the run time.

Due Date is a surprise, but it certainly isn’t pleasant. When Peter punches a bratty kid in the stomach, he doesn’t exhibit his fatherly abilities—nor is it that funny. When the film climaxes, it’s as if nothing really happens. The characters arrive at their destination and the film never peaks to tell us much more than what the laughs have already delivered.

Because of its mean-spiritedness, Due Date doesn’t convince us that Peter and Ethan could become great friends. They are two very different people who only earn our respect because of who plays them. It’s another movie where Downey transcends the film’s hiccups (hiccup, Iron Man 2, hiccup). Phillips seems to be back on track, though he should be looking more in the direction of John Hughes.

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