Movie Review: Due Date
I am a sucker for sexy young women. Not that Due Date is a film that is riddled with them, but it was highly recommended to me by a very attractive female for whom I have a significant crush on. I often hear recommendations for films from several different outlets such as the TV, newspapers, and websites, in addition to my friends, but I seldom have those recommendations be the sole reason to see a film. Sure, I write reviews, but not professionally (alas) and with limited means (not desire) I must be somewhat selective. As much as I love Robert Downey, this was a film I was planning on passing. Yes, yes, Zach Galifianakis is a funny gentleman, but he is an acquired taste. On top of all that, I wasn’t exactly the biggest fan of The Hangover (2009). Does it appear to you all that I had more reasons against seeing this film than for? Oh well, what was it that Sweeney Todd said about pretty women?
Due Date is a buddy/road trip comedy that has four simple elements to it: Zach, Robert, random celebrity cameos and a cornucopia of over-the-top stunts that are not far removed from The Hangover. The general setup for this comedy simply does not exist in the real world. A man of Peter Highman’s (Downey’s) status would not be limited to travel and be stuck with the likes of a social inept as Ethan Tremblay/Chase (Galifianakis). The inciting incident is so prone to a multitude of lawsuits that the film proceeds to give the audience the old Jedi mind-trick by ignoring it all together. If you can get past the absurd hook, the rest of the trip is, in fact, “all uphill from here.” As the duo makes the trip to Los Angeles, the basic comic formula involves an ever degenerating state of utter stupidity by Ethan and an ever escalating state of bodily harm to Peter. As amusing as this seems, especially at first glance, the formula gets stale after a while and it is quite welcome to see the random celebrity cameo appearance. The difference between Due Date and The Hangover is that the comedy is not quite as raunchy and Galifianakis is written to be somewhat sweet despite his worst efforts to be a “hero.” The film does too good of a job getting the audience to be annoyed by the absolute train wreck of a human being that Zach Galifianakis represents. When the film is about to end and everything is to be forgiven, I felt an unscrupulous need to curb stomp Galifianakis if I were to meet him in person. Yes, he was THAT annoying.
The writing team of Alan R. Cohen and Alan Freedland of American Dad and King of the Hill fame get tapped by director Todd Phillips to concoct the comedy of Due Date. Most of the comedy is very physical as it entails inflicting pain and a plethora of stunt work. Some of the comedy is filled in with curious celebrity appearances such as the infamous inclusion of “Iron” Mike Tyson in his Phillips’ previous film. The rest of the comedy is centered on the king of the absurd and inappropriate response, Zach Galifianakis and his exceptional ability to turn the mundane into the “my-what-the-hell-was-he-thinking?!” The bad part about these jokes is that most, if not all, are already featured in the trailers for Due Date and I consider this situation to be the result of a drought of quality laughs that don’t involve someone getting hurt. I understand that comedy is very difficult to write, but one should have a surplus of gags so as to not spoon feed an entire film to the audience via trailer viewings. This is a specific area where the production team came up short and should have had better plans for what is and is not revealed in trailer footage.
Robert Downey Jr. does a fine job being a human target for the duration of the film. Robert provides the straight angle to enhance Zach’s absurd delivery and at times, Downey teeters close to the edge of downright mean in his response. Although he makes a hard sell for his character’s ever mounting frustration, I don’t believe he goes quite far enough. Granted, I cannot recall an occasion where I’ve heard this man drop as many F-Bombs in so little time than in Due Date, but a man pushed to his limits as far as Downey’s character practically begs for a more drastic response. Taking Downey’s character over the edge in response to Galifianakis would have upped the laugh total, but would also diminish the charm and respectability of his tolerance of an intolerable situation to achieve an honorable end. This is where Downey’s acting prowess really comes into play because it is not simply his ability to sell anger and frustration that solidifies his performance, but doing so with collected restraint to the point where the man is practically looking through the screen for some help from the audience with a completely impossible human being.
The random celebrity cameos are noteworthy because they were all smartly written and in some cases, superior to the banter between the film’s two protagonists. I know what most of you are thinking, but no, the inclusion of former funny man and Academy Award winner Jaime Foxx is not worth mentioning. Danny McBride of Eastbound and Down playing a handy-capable money wire agent is priceless and the RZA of Wutang Clan continues to impress me with his natural comedic instincts on film playing an airport screener. These men steal both scenes in which they are featured and practically make the entire film worth while on their merit alone.
But of course, this film is about Zach Galifianakis and by the end of this article I will certainly be able to spell his last name backwards and forwards with full confidence. Seriously though, Due Date is Zach’s vehicle to be featured in and his boy, Todd Phillips, sees a flavor of the week in Fat Jesus. Rest assured there is nothing in this film that you haven’t seen or expected from Zach in light of his recent work. That’s not to say that his performance is bad, but simply more of the same. Zach has all but patented his matter-of-fact, deadpan delivery despite vocalizing the kind of lines that make you wonder if 3rdgraders are, in fact, writing the script. I applaud his continued success, but if this is the same level of performance he brings to the set of The Hangover 2, we may not be seeing him featured in any other films for a while.
Rabid fans of The Hangover will have no problem promoting this comedy as the best of the year. Frankly, I was less than impressed as I had virtually no interest in sympathizing for Ethan Chase. Great comedies make you like, if not love; if not totally understand where the protagonist is coming from. God love Galifianakis, but I really hated his character by the end of the film and felt more pity than pride for Robert Downey Jr. as a result. This is a good date movie to attend, but if you just want to laugh, pop in a copy of Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story (2004). You will be far better off!