Wednesday, November 3, 2010
Review: "Due Date"
Let's not endure any illusions that "Due Date" is anything other than a raunchy updating of 1987's "Planes, Trains and Automobiles" from the director and breakout star of "The Hangover."
Robert Downey Jr. and Zach Galifianakis play the Steve Martin and John Candy roles as, respectively, an uptight professional type trying to get home to his family and a wacky interloper who screws up his plans, steering him straight into road trip comedy territory.
Over time, the jerk realizes he's a jerk, and comes to accept his dim-witted, accident-prone traveling companion as his new best friend, embracing the chaos that's been introduced into his stale little life.
Todd Phillips, who directed and co-wrote the script (along with three other guys I don't feel like mentioning) adroitly sets up the big laughs, of which there are plenty. He really knows how to use Galifianakis' strange, beetle-brow peevish charm to comic effect.
My big problem with the movie is that I just didn't buy these two guys as real people. Since I don't believe them as legitimate characters who could exist in the real world, I didn't feel anything for them when the movie turns mushy and serious.
It's pretty obvious that Ethan Tremblay (Galifianakis) is a movie-made edifice. He's a wannabe actor heading to Hollywood who's colossally clueless about acting, and movies, and basic human interaction.
When asked if he knows who Shakespeare is, he insists that he's a pirate, and that it's pronounced "Shakesbeard." After mimicking Marlon Brando's opening speech in "The Godfather" (badly and inaccurately), Ethan demurs when asked if he wrote that, saying "the Mafia did."
"'Two and a Half Men' is the reason I wanted to become an actor," Ethan says without guile. "Especially the second season."
Ethan carries around a tiny pug dog named Sonny, has a prissy little walk like he's trying to balance a fresh egg between his thighs, and is toting his father's ashes cross-country.
Such a bizarre assortment of ticks strains credulity, but even the supposed straight man seems implausible.
As played by Downey, Peter Highman is an architect who's built a cathedral of ironic detachment around himself. When Ethan (or anyone) behaves in a way Peter thinks infringes on his sensibilities, his reaction is to do a dead-pan patter and project exasperation that such a thing could possibly happen to him.
He doesn't actually roll his eyes, but you can feel him doing it internally.
The set-up is that Ethan gets both of them thrown off the plane from Atlanta to Los Angeles by repeatedly mentioning the words "bomb" and "terrorist," and then Peter's insufferable attitude toward the flight crew does the rest. Having lost his ID, Peter can't even rent a car to get back home in time for the birth of his first child.
You can guess the rest yourself. Forced to share a car with Ethan, they proceed to get into one scrape after another, with Peter growing progressively vexed and Ethan perpetually oblivious to it.
The script borrows from "Planes, Trains" again and again. There's a bit where Ethan falls asleep at the wheel, and another where Peter looks over at Ethan and hallucinates him into a demonic figure. All that's missing is the "two pillows" joke.
I don't mind a clever tip of the hat to another, better movie. But "Due Date" steals so often and so shamelessly that, despite an abundance of genuinely funny moments, we're happy when the ride ends.
2.5 stars out of four