Robert Downey Jr., Zach Galifianakis, Michelle Monaghan
Todd Phillips, Adam Sztykiel, Alan Freedland, Alan Cohen
Occasionally funny but even more often a mean-spirited cross-country jaunt featuring the mismatched Peter (Robert Downey Jr.) and Ethan (Zach Galifianakis), Due Date will likely be most significant as a reminder of just how brilliant the pairing of Steve Martin and John Candy was in the far more delightful and entertaining Planes, Trains and Automobiles.
Likely to be compared to The Hangover primarily because it shares that film's director, Todd Phillips, Due Date lacks that film's edgy irreverence while never mustering up the sweetness, affection or heart of Planes, Trains and Automobiles. From the film's opening moments, it is clear that both Peter and Ethan will be on a journey together, yet neither character is particularly sympathetic, or even likable, and it's hard to care at all about how the journey ends.
Peter is an uptight, actually pretentious, architect with a beautiful and very pregnant wife (Michelle Monaghan) waiting for him to get home from Atlanta so she can deliver their first child by C-section. Ethan, on the other hand, is a man-child and wannabe actor headed out to Hollywood to become a star with a suitcase, his dog Sonny and a coffee can filled with the ashes of his recently deceased father.
Peter is supposedly the "smart" one, yet in one of the film's earliest scenes gets mouthy with a federal air marshal with results that set everything in motion, while Ethan is so freakishly passive aggressive that he comes off as having more a narcissistic personality disorder than being some sort of appealing man-child. Along the way, Peter will go whup-ass on a child (Okay, I confess. It was spontaneous and funny), go whup-ass on a paraplegic (Danny McBride) and will spit on Sonny.
Tell me again what's funny about all this?
Downey has a gift for mining the humanity of characters such as this one, a notable example being that of Tony Stark, a largely self-obsessed and larger than life character embodies with humor and heart by Downey. Yet, here, Downey feels like he's digging out from the bottom of a well and never quite able to reach the surface of Peter's humanity. These "road" films aren't just about the trip from "A" to "B," but more importantly about how the characters grow and evolve along the way. While the quartet of screenwriters give lip service to some faux bonding between Peter and Ethan, it feels artificial and forced at best.
Galifianakis doesn't fare much better, playing yet another not so adorable loser in almost the same way Ben Stiller got stuck in his own comedic rut after a few films. Galifianakis gives off a few shining moments of richly felt humanity here, moments indicating that he's fully capable of going beyond this shtick that got him famous but isn't allowing him to do anything substantial with the fame. One sort of gets the sense that Galifianakis is becoming a John Belushi here, a genuinely funny man searching for ways to expand his cinematic horizon. While he sure wouldn't have been convincing as Peter, it's time for Galifianakis to move beyond this stereotype and show us what he's got.
Most of the film's shining moments come courtesy of the supporting players, especially a scene-stealing Juliette Lewis as Ethan's herbal doctor (i.e., pot dealer). Jamie Foxx shows up briefly more as a plot device, and Michelle Monaghan is once again wasted in a role that looks like anything substantial was left on the cutting room floor.
Fans of Downey and Galifianakis or, for that matter, director Todd Phillips, will undoubtedly find moments to enjoy here with several scenes eliciting chuckles and a few outright laughs on the way. Moviegoers unfamiliar with the Martin/Candy predecessor will likely be untainted by their fond memories of that vastly superior film, and those looking for light, escapist entertainment on opening weekend won't likely have too many regrets for catching this flick. Yet, Due Date should have been a much better film than it is given its talented cast.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic