Due Date

Release Date: November 5, 2010

No, I do not want to buy a dog.

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35/190 Max Braden Planes, Trains, and Automobiles is still the standard. I did like that they didn't just make Robert Downey Jr. a victim but took him to the edge of being a real bastard.

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There aren’t many out and out comedies these days that can take on the status of “event picture.” Normally, the comedy is only half of the equation and has been +1’ed with some other commercially viable genre (i.e. an animated comedy, an action comedy, a romantic comedy). Thanks to a confluence of ever-rising fortunes in the stock of its primary cast and director, Due Date has my vote for most anticipated comedy of the year. This is despite some reservations on my part about the road trip nature of the plot (as known so far) and the fact that a synopsis makes it seem like Planes, Trains and Automobiles crossed with Jingle All The Way (if TurboMan was replaced with an about to be born child.) But let’s focus on the positives first.

Robert Downey Jr. is arguably at the height of his popularity with fans and critics alike, having launched two successful action franchises in the past three years and snagged his second Academy Award nomination with a daringly offensive and funny performance in a third hit film. Downey has always been as deft with humor as he is with drama; indeed, his specialty is finding the crossroads where self-deprecation meets self-laceration, but Due Date may give him the chance for the kind of purely straightforward on-screen hi-jinks that his career hasn’t seen in nearly two decades (I am thinking of the era of Chances Are, Soapdish and Heart & Souls.) Plus, he apparently gets to play the anal-retentive straight man and the prospect of him attempting to keep his cool (and then inevitably losing it) seems like comic gold. I have always had a soft spot for the actor, going back to the 1987 feature The Pick-Up Artist, which I recall as being the first film where the trailer got me super-jazzed to see it, only for me to determine afterwards that said film was nothing at all like the coming attraction and that the film did indeed underwhelm (thus was I born as a critic.)

Zach Galifiniakis has ridden the wave of his breakthrough performance in The Hangover to his own personal high of popularity and recognition although it’s interesting to observe that he and Downey Jr. are fairly close to the same age (both in their early 40s) so it isn’t quite a pairing of grizzled (though dapper) rehabbed comeback kid and upstart unkempt comic berserker. Being not all that familiar with Galifiniakis’ early career so as to provide a contrast, I don’t know how many times he has gone to the well as a volatile shaggy dog of insane behavior. With his distinct hirsute look, I find it easy to believe that he could be typecast until the overly hairy cows come home.

Other casting highlights include a pair of reunions for Downey. with previous co-stars. Michelle Monaghan, with whom he struck some serious spark in Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, plays his wife/the mother-to-be and Jamie Foxx, his co-star in The Soloist, plays a long-time friend.

Director Todd Phillips has ridden a wave of (mostly) ever-increasing box office for his fiction films over the past decade. With the exception of the bust gross on School for Scoundrels, each film has grossed more than the previous one with the capper being The Hangover’s just-north-of-a-quarter-of-a-billion dollars haul last summer, one of the most unexpectedly large final tallies for an R-rated feature and/or comedy ever. His films tend to be fairly well reviewed as well and with that combination of consistent success and acclaim, any project of his now deserves at least a once over consideration as a potential moneymaker. As one of those who wasn’t all that impressed with The Hangover - I laughed out loud six times, as much as I did in the first ten minutes of I Love You, Man - his name alone intrigues but doesn’t have me clamoring for a seat on opening night.

Phillips does write or co-write all of his screenplays and here he shares the bill along with three others. Alan Cohen & Alan Freedland, whose resume highlight is their work as writers and producers on King of the Hill, are the primary screenwriters with joint credit also given to Phillips & Adam Stzykiel, who penned the Patrick Dempsey rom-com Made of Honor. I admit I don’t know quite what to make of that confluence of comedy stylings (or lack thereof) but I remind myself that Tootsie had six credited writers so it isn’t a given that too many comic cooks will burn the funny bread.

Now on to that plot: Downey plays Steve Highman, a high-strung architect who finds himself across the country on assignment when his wife goes into labor. His attempts to simply fly the friendly skies back west from Atlanta to home are waylaid when he meets would-be actor/full-time stoner Ethan Tremblay (Galifiniakis), who gets them both kicked off the flight. Feeling responsible, Ethan makes it his personal mission to get Steve where he needs to be in time. Meanwhile, as the wife’s labor continues to build, Foxx’s character, the wife’s ex-boyfriend, attempts to insert himself into the proceedings. I can only imagine that lessons will be learned, vehicles will be smashed, and no small amount of drugs will be consumed.

In a production like this (mismatched personality types on a knowledge-imparting road trip), I think two things matter the most. The first is the ratio of g and g/h-p (gags and guffaws to heartstrings-plucked). Unless there is some out of nowhere plot twist to negate the whole reason for the trip, both men will emerge wiser and changed for the better. The second is how well the two leads play off each other. At first glance it may seem like the true comic switch would have been for Galifiniakis to play the tightly wound one, but Downey often plays all kinds of levels of annoyed exasperation in his various roles and his reaction shots alone could provide much of the comic vibe. If Steve and Ethan can play it like Neal Page and Del Griffith, another classic cross-country tale might be in the offing. On a side note, I am already placing mental bets on how often there are jokes made about Steve’s last name and its’ heterographical kinship to a part of the female anatomy. If the script needs to go there more than once, all bets are off. (Brett Beach/BOP)

Vital statistics for Due Date
Main Cast Robert Downey Jr., Zach Galifianakis, Michelle Monaghan
Supporting Cast Jamie Foxx, Alan Arkin, Juliette Lewis, Danny McBride
Director Todd Phillips
Screenwriter Alan R. Cohen, Alan Freedland, Adam Sztykiel, Todd Phillips
Distributor Warner Bros. Pictures
Official Site http://duedatemovie.warnerbros.com/
Talent in red has entry in The Big Picture



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