A film review by Craig J. Koban November 19, 2010
2010, R, 105 mins.
2010, R, 105 mins.
Robert Downey Jr.: Peter Highman / Zach Galifianakis: Ethan Tremblay / Michelle Monaghan: Sarah Highman / Jamie Foxx: Darryl / Juliette Lewis: Heidi / Danny McBride: Lonnie
Directed by Todd Phillips / Written by Alan R. Cohen, Alan Freedland, Adam Sztykiel and Phillips
Phillips’ DUE DATE is kind of like a low rent hybrid of PLANES TRAINS,
AND AUTOMOBILES and this year’s DINNER
All three films feature a repellently annoying man-child character
that ends up becoming a very unlikely friend to some poor sap that –
under any other normal set of circumstance – would absolutely have
nothing to do with this loser. DUE
DATE, like the 1987 John Hughes comedy classic, involves a pair of
terribly incompatible misfits embarking on a cross country trek with each
other and how their relationship along the way matures into something
meaningful and sincere.
the problem, though, with DUE DATE: considering
the enormity of the talent on board – Phillips (THE
HANGOVER, ROAD TRIP, and OLD SCHOOL), Zack Galifianakis (who
emerged as last year’s breakout comedic star with his side-splitting
turn in THE HANGOVER), and Robert Downey Jr., one of the most dependable
actors of his generation – the film never emerges as a transcending
laugh riot that it should have been. The plot itself is mournfully derivative of Hughes' late 80’s
effort, right down to various character arcs and themes, not to mention
that Phillips has made a much fresher and funnier road trip comedy in…uh…ROAD
TRIP, which makes DUE DATE feel like a waste of his time and talents. DUE
DATE just feels exhausted in terms of originality.
Remember the lovable loser that John Candy played to riotous perfection in PLANES, TRAINS AND AUTOMOBILES? That character was exasperating, but you grew to generally sympathize and care for the lug. DUE DATE has a similar character played by Galifianakis that does manage to generate some decent giggles here and there, but the huge misstep with this role is that he becomes almost detestably irritating throughout most of the film, so much so that you never once – not for a single, solitary second – believe that any human being would survive ten minutes in a car on a freeway with this unbearable doofus. Of course, we get scenes of false sentimentality and humility between Galifianakis and Downey’s characters that culminates in a squeaky clean and soft-pedaled conclusion that under no circumstances feels plausible.
the bare bones plot: Galifianakis plays an Atlanta-based actor-in-training
(with a strong emphasis on "in-training") named Ethan Tremblay
that has high hopes of mega stardom in Hollywood.
His look never hints at leading man status: he wears acid wash
jeans that are two sizes too small, carries a French bulldog everywhere in
his tote, has a perm that feels about a decade past due in terms of
hipness, and, to make him more pathetic, he carries around his dead father’s
ashes in an empty coffee can.
He also finds TWO AND HALF MEN to be the benchmark of quality in
the thespian arts. Not only
is this man a shaggy slob, but also he just looks…creepy and weird
fatefully crosses paths at an Atlanta airport with Downey’s Peter
Highman, an architect that is trying to make it back home to L.A. so that
he can reunite with his wife (Michelle Monaghan) and can witness the birth of
his first child. After a bump
in with Ethan that leads to them accidentally exchanging bags (which
further leads to a very awkward moment for Peter at the security gates),
they reunite on board the airplane, but it does not end well for Peter.
In the span of a few minutes, Peter manages to have his face
squished up against Ethan’s sweaty and hairy stomach, is caught
inadvertently using the words “terrorist” and “bomb” by the
stewardess, and is in turn shot with a rubber bullet by the air marshal on
After a run in with TSA agents, Peter is considered a flight risk
and not allowed to board another plane.
yet is that Peter has lost his wallet, credit cards, and identification,
making even renting a car to travel cross country impossible.
Without any manner of procuring a means of getting home, he is
forced to take up the offer of Ethan, who conveniently shows up on scene
with his own rental car and, wouldn’t you know it, he’s heading to “Hollywood.”
everything potentially bad happens to Peter and Ethan on their very
long and arduous trek from Atlanta to California, which involves, in
random order: Ethan running out of money because of a pit stop to buy
medicinal weed; him falling asleep at the wheel and crashing the rental
car, destroying it in the process; Peter getting his arm and ribs broken
and later being accidentally shot in the leg, but only after being beaten
up by a wheelchair bound Iraq war veteran; and a very dicey run in at the
I know what you must be thinking: Gee, considering that Peter is on his
BlackBerry throughout most of his waking life, could he not find a means
to call his wife and ask her to call the airport’s rental car company
and pay for a vehicle for him over the phone for him to get home?
Yet, DUE DATE is permeated by the "Idiot Plot Syndrome",
where an apparently intelligent and sophisticated men like Peter is too
dimwitted to consider such an obvious option. Alas,
there would be no cross country road trip between him and Ethan if that
were the case, which makes even a broad comedy like DUE DATE feel that
much more painfully desperate and obvious with its comedy and plot
seriously, I just could not buy a man like Peter lasting even a minute
with Ethan, let alone spending several days alone in a car with him.
Even after Ethan has inadvertently caused Peter great physical
injuries and – in one foul moment – masturbates right in front on him
while both try to sleep in the car when they can’t severe a hotel room (spanking the monkey makes Ethan fall
asleep quicker), Peter still
finds a way to stick around with this disturbing simpleton. Call me crazy, but when my passenger flogs his battleship in
front of me in the car, that’s typically a very large red flag that
persuades me to evict him from my company altogether.
is an unreservedly gifted screen comedian, and he was a riotous tour de
force in THE HANGOVER. He
certainly can plays trippy and horrifically unaware social rejects like
Ethan in his sleep, but he never fully emerges as someone that commands my
compassion in the film: he’s just so criminally anti-social and uncouth
that he belongs more in a straight jacket than on a road trip with a
complete stranger. Downey’s
role does not fare much better, seeing as Peter is such a repellent
and selfish a-hole throughout much of the film that you almost begin lose
compassion for him as well.
At one point he viscously punches a small child down to ground and
– the horror! – even spits on Ethan’s dog point blank in the face
out of sheer hostility. This
guy’s a total prick from the get-go, and Downey is equal to the
task of playing up to that scandalous level, but the script goes to
unpardonable levels to soften up this man to mushy extremes to the point
where he begins to like Ethan. Yeah.
a more interesting angle for this type of comedy would have been perhaps
to play up to the fierce hostility of Peter for bleak and macabre laughs
and make DUE DATE come off as an incisive black comedy of ill manners. But, nope, Phillips and his screenwriters opt for mixing
bawdiness with teeth-grating and superficial soppiness, the latter which
always seems to feel manufactured and out of place.
Even some of the more bawdy gags fall flat at times with how
mind-numbingly telegraphed they are (gee, I wonder if Ethan’s father’s
ashes will be mistaken for coffee grinds by one unsuspecting person?). Combine that with some truly unmemorable cameo performances
by Monaghan (a gifted screen actress that manages to get lost in too many
mediocre films, like this, EAGLE EYE,
and MADE OF HONOR) and Downey’s THE
SOLOIST co-star Jamie Foxx that shows up in a zero-role that could
have been played by just about any other actor.
At least Juliette Lewis - as she did recently in CONVICTION
- shows up in a movie-stealing cameo as a pot dealer that hysterically
reveres Ethan’s rendering of a very famous scene from THE GODFATHER.
Phillips has been a little inconsistent as of late. The passable, but forgettable SCHOOL FOR SCOUNDRELS begat the frequently sidesplitting THE HANGOVER that, in due turn, has now begotten DUE DATE, which certainly is his weakest and most phoned-in comedic effort. It’s even all the more disappointing considering that this is a stale, lukewarm, and only sporadically chuckle-inducing follow-up to his critically lauded and audience revered HANGOVER, but when you have talent like Downey and Galifiankis – a brilliantly conceived cinematic odd couple on paper – wallow in a predictable, downbeat, and dismissible effort like this, it’s hard to ultimately care. DUE DATE is a planeless, trainless, and a surprisingly laughless version OF PLANES TRAINS AND AUTOMOBILES...and not much more.