Movie Review: Due Date
By Matthew Huntley
November 15, 2010
Due Date attempts to restore a classic premise using cheap, modern parts, and the result feels tired and inconsequential. The whole time I was watching it, I couldn’t shake the idea it had been done before, only better. Its most flagrant rip-off, of course, is John Hughes’ Planes, Trains & Automobiles, that indelible Steve Martin/John Candy comedy about two mismatched guys who travel together a few days before Thanksgiving. That film had the benefit of being fresh and one of the first of its kind. Due Date isn’t so lucky, and in addition to outright stealing from Hughes’ film, it resorts to raunchy, crude humor to fill in the holes left by lazy writing.
The set up is simple: Peter Highman (Robert Downey Jr.) is an architect from Los Angeles whose wife (Michelle Monaghan) is about to give birth to their first child. Peter is on his way back from a business meeting in Atlanta when he meets the certifiably obnoxious Ethan Tremblay (Zach Galifianakis), a wannabe actor also headed for L.A. Their first encounter comes after Ethan knocks over Peter’s luggage at the airport, followed by a series of increasingly unpleasant confrontations: Ethan sticking his hairy gut in Peter’s face on the plane; Ethan mentioning the word “terrorist” and not only getting Peter shot with a rubber bullet, but also having him placed on the no-fly list. Later, when Peter discovers he’s lost his wallet, he has no choice but to drive cross-country with Ethan. Ugh!
Hilarity should ensue, but it doesn’t. The reason is because we know exactly where the movie is going (even more so if you’ve seen Planes, Trains & Automobiles) and it doesn’t make much of an effort to try new things. When it does, most of them are misses. It’s a no-brainer Peter will eventually be driven nuts by Ethan, and that Peter will blow up at him and feel bad about it (even though Ethan nearly kills him), and we know the two will eventually set their differences aside and become friends just in time for Peter to see his child born. What, did I give too much away?
Out of the few original scenes the movie offers, I did like the one when Peter and Ethan make a stop in Birmingham so Ethan can buy marijuana from a hick named Heidi (Juliette Lewis). Peter has a run-in with her 12-year-old son and the payoff is a cross between sick and hilarious.
But the other jokes don’t work as well, including when Peter picks a fight with a handicapped veteran (Danny McBride). What exactly was the punch line of this scene anyway? Was it that Peter gets beat up by a guy in a wheel chair? Or that the guy in the wheel chair carries a baton? There isn’t a clear target. Either way, I wasn’t laughing.
Another awkward, would-be funny moment comes when Peter and Ethan sleep in their rental car and Ethan starts pleasuring himself. Seriously, would anyone really start doing this in front of a total stranger? And would the total stranger just sit there and cover his ears? I know it takes all kinds, but this was just too unbelievable. In fact, I think the only reason the scene was included was so we could see Ethan’s dog touch itself and the movie could brag and say it has at least one masturbation scene. It might have been funny had Ethan tried to conceal the act so Peter wouldn’t find out, but that’s not the case. The movie wants to make it too known what Ethan is doing.
The plot eventually exhausts itself with moments that are more desperate than funny, including when Ethan rescues Peter from the Mexican border patrol and accidentally shoots him in the leg. But the movie forgets two crucial keys to good comedy: believability and unpredictability. I personally didn’t believe Ethan was a real person. Galifianakis plays him too over-the-top and obnoxious that I could sense him trying to act funny instead of simply being funny. His performance doesn’t feel natural and calls too much attention to itself as a performance instead of an embodiment of a character. And with the routine shenanigans these two men end up in, the movie makes it too easy to guess how everything will play out.
If there’s a reason to see Due Date, it’s Robert Downey Jr. He’s cool, charming and funny in this role and we sympathize with him, so much that we wish his character was placed in a better screenplay. But his counterpart and the hackneyed plot get in his way and the movie peddles along without interesting developments or terribly funny moments. Even the bits about Ethan’s father’s ashes in the coffee can get old.
A lot of people may find this review surprising since the movie was directed by Todd Phillips, who last made The Hangover, but if you think about it, both that film and Planes, Trains & Automobiles were fresh and, for the most part, believable. That’s what made them work. Due Date lacks those essential characteristics.