Never accept a lift from a stranger
Image: Warner Bros.
Due Date seemed like a sure thing. Robert Downey Jr. and Zach Galifianakis starring as the two leads in the new film from the director of The Hangover. The trailer was great and it looked like the filmmakers had struck gold.
Highly-strung father-to-be Peter Highman (Downey Jr.) is kicked off a plane and put on a no-fly-list, largely due to the actions of oddball aspiring actor Ethan Tremblay (Galifianakis). Desperate to make it to the birth of his first child, Peter accepts Ethan’s offer to drive him across the country. Can they make it in time without killing each other?
So, is Due Date a success or a failure? Frankly, it’s somewhere in between. Downey Jr. and Galifianakis play wonderfully off each other; however, the script veers wildly from hilarious to dull. While the two actors are good enough to keep our interest during the lulls, even they can’t make us laugh if they’ve not been given funny things to do.
Downey Jr.’s character is often unlikeable, which may upset some audiences, but why hire someone who’s so good at playing an arrogant jerk if you’re just going to have him sigh and roll his eyes? Peter’s short temper repeatedly gets him into trouble and these are the film’s funniest scenes. They’re also the most likely to cause controversy, with Downey Jr. spitting on a dog, punching a child in the stomach, and getting his ass handed to him by a veteran (Danny McBride). It walks a fine line between offensive and hilarious but I found that they hit the mark. This is probably, as the director has pointed out, because the character is played by Robert Downey Jr.
Galifianakis certainly hasn’t strayed too far from his Hangover character. Ethan is a man-child who’s carrying around a small dog, a collection of headshots and his father’s ashes in a coffee can. He’s also infuriating, causing car crashes, asking incessant questions, and thwarting almost every attempt Peter makes at keeping to a schedule. But he’s also strangely touching. When Peter is too cruel to Ethan, he bursts into tears. It’s here that Due Date will split audiences again. You’ll either find their emotional turmoil touching, or maybe just interesting, or you won’t care at all. You might just hate them both.
In the grand tradition of road movies, Due Date is very patchy. Phillips feels the need for action sequences, but the bigger the escapade, the fewer the laughs. An escape from custody in Mexico is nowhere near as funny as the conversation at a petrol station that precedes it. Meanwhile the supporting cast is incidental. Jamie Foxx shows up briefly in an almost pointless scene, Juliette Lewis is moderately funny as a pot dealer mum, and Downey Jr.’s Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang co-star Michelle Monaghan is completely wasted as Peter’s pregnant wife.
As I’ve said, Downey Jr. and Galifianakis pull the film along. A masturbating dog gag isn’t funny until you see the look on Peter’s face. Without its stars, it would have been a train wreck. With them, it’s an often disappointing but intermittently hilarious comedy.
If you like the two actors, check it out. Lower your expectations, though.