Writer-director Todd Phillips understands comedy and comedic structure. He’s no stranger to the possibilities of the cinematic road trip.
He made Old School, which I liked. From a commercial standpoint, he’s money all the way, thanks in particular to last summer’s smash The Hangover.
Yet the few of us who sort of hated that picture, as much for its plodding calculation as its misogyny, free-floating racism and easy, lazy comic targets, will find Due Date even more of a drag. I wonder if anyone will come out of it saying, “Now that was a really good comedy.” Anything you might find amusing in Due Date (in “rather a mean way,” to quote Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel), you’ve seen already in the trailer.
People don’t want much from time-wasters like this, and in this regard Due Date succeeds: It doesn’t deliver much. At the Atlanta airport, through a series of horsey contrivances, a homeward-bound L.A. architect played by Robert Downey Jr. lands on a no-fly list along with a gormless would-be actor, portrayed by Zach Galifianakis. They’re forced to share a rental car on their drive west. They fight. The architect burns, while the actor fiddles. They odd-couple it all the way across the south and southwest. They share father issues (the Galifianakis character is carrying his late dad’s ashes in a coffee can, looking for a fitting place to bid them farewell). The architect is a rage-aholic and a pluperfect piece of dung who’s “working on” becoming a better person so he can be a decent father.
So it’s Planes, Trains and Automobiles without the plane or train. The pathos really is shameless, arriving with killing regularity and false humility. At its darkest, Due Date recalls the acrid nature of the humor in Observe and Report. I’ll give director and co-writer Phillips this much: I did not expect the scene in which Downey smashes Galifianakis’s face against a car door, played not for laughs but to signify a Simmering Kettle of Violence, Ready to Explode. Next minute, they’re pals again. Huh? Wha?
Downey is among our most entertaining actors (Galifianakis, I’d characterize as more lucky than talented), but you sense a high-flying performer coasting pretty close to the ground here. Downey is smart enough to realize what he’s dealing with in Due Date. And he probably suspects it’ll get by, because it’s an odd-couple road-trip comedy, shot with woozy handheld cameras in an attempt at low-down gritty realism, from the man who made The Hangover.