A film review by Craig J. Koban November 19, 2010


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

Todd Phillips’ DUE DATE is kind of like a low rent hybrid of PLANES TRAINS, AND AUTOMOBILES and this year’s DINNER FOR SCHMUCKS.  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. 

Here’s 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. 

Here’s 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 beyond recognition. 

He 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 board.  After a run in with TSA agents, Peter is considered a flight risk and not allowed to board another plane. 

Worse 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.”  Predictably, 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 Mexican/US border. 

Now, 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 trajectory. 

And, 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. 

Galifianakis 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.  Right.  Sure.   

Now, 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. 

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