I’ve written before about how comedy is perhaps the most subjective genre because specific types of humor either work for you, or they don’t. Due Date isn’t my preferred kind of comedy. It’s broad and has some funny sequences, but it’s just not my thing. This is a movie in which Zach Galifianakis breaks down in tears during an impromptu acting showcase in a rest stop bathroom – his character plays an actor – and it actually works as an effectively emotional moment. But it’s also a movie that features a masturbating dog.
Essentially an update of John Hughes’ Steve Martin/John Candy classic Planes, Trains and Automobiles, Due Date pairs the uptight Peter Highman (Downey) with the flamboyant Ethan Tremblay (Galifianakis) as they travel from Atlanta to Los Angeles to get back in time to see Peter’s wife Sarah (Monaghan) give birth to their first child. It’s a buddy road movie with all the trappings you’d expect from the genre: random stop-offs resulting in drug deals (which results in a we’ve-seen-that-before drug trip sequence), car crashes, mix-ups with the police, and more eye-rollingly forced plot points. It’s too bad the laughs aren’t there to accentuate the movie’s quick pace.
When Robert Downey, Jr. called Due Date “the second greatest movie [he’s] ever done,” I foolishly allowed my expectations to rise. Perhaps Downey truly believes that, as each person is entitled to his or her opinion. I’m not going to call him a liar and say he’s just drumming up publicity for his new movie, because I have no right to do so (nor any proof). But I’m guessing you’ll be hard pressed to find even a handful of people who agree that this is the second best movie RDJ has ever made. This writer believes it’s nowhere close, and I could name probably six or seven other things that more adequately fit that description. (For the record, I would say the first Iron Man is the second best movie he’s made, right behind Kiss Kiss Bang Bang.)
Downey gives a good performance as the straight man to Galifianakis’ Ethan, but as crazy as Ethan is, at least Ethan is always genuine. Peter is just kind of a douche; a guy who lets even the smallest thing get the best of him and who – spoiler alert – punches kids and spits on dogs. While those things may come off as funny (OK, the dog thing wasn’t funny at all), it’s hard to step back and actually like this character. Don’t get me wrong: I’m not saying Downey has to play the good guy in everything he’s in. I’d love to see the guy show off his range even further than he already has since his 2008 career renaissance. But in a dynamic like this where Ethan dominates most of the movie’s landscape with his ridiculous antics, it’d be nice to have an on-screen anchor to return to every once in a while.
Speaking of range, I have not yet seen Zach Galifianakis in It’s Kind of a Funny Story, but after seeing him in Due Date I’m looking forward to seeing the actor spread his wings a bit and give a dramatic performance for a change. It’s going to be hard to separate him from these kinds of roles for a while (especially with The Hangover 2 coming soon), but hopefully he can continue to sprinkle in smaller, more serious roles here and there along the way. Honestly, I’m hoping he doesn’t take the career path of Jack Black: some solid off-beat comedic performances (ala High Fidelity and School of Rock), the occasional drama (King Kong), and ultimately sinking to headlining what looks to be utter garbage (Gulliver’s Travels).
I liked Zach Galifianakis’ early stuff better than what he’s doing now. I know that makes me sound like an anti-conformist obnoxious asshat, but it’s true: his Comedy Central specials and stand-up performances are funny because they’re strange, weird, and nonsensical. Even in his first collaboration with director Todd Phillips, The Hangover (which I thought was funny but wildly overrated), he seemed a bit neutered by the script and that trend continues with Due Date. He’s funny here, but in a very controlled sort of way; in his own comedy, he can bypass that overwhelming feeling of limitation and cut straight to the heart of the weird randomness that has so far defined him as a comedian.
The movie itself keeps things moving at a good clip, but just never clicked with me. The story just felt a little too tried-and-true, and didn’t bring enough fun into the mix. Even similar stories like Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle or this year’s Get Him to the Greek, films with a specific destination in mind, were able to sustain interest throughout their run times. I feel like Due Date doesn’t ever reach that point, and it’s no fault of Todd Phillips (who does a fine job here) – it’s simply the writing didn’t make you feel anything along the way. In the aforementioned films, it’s fairly obvious from the start that (spoilers, I guess) the guys are going to make it to White Castle and get Aldous Snow to the Greek Theater, respectively. But by upping the stakes a bit, those films succeed where Due Date fails. This film’s idea of upping the stakes involve a dead father’s ashes in a coffee can (guess what happens to those?) and a relatively useless cameo by Jaime Foxx just to introduce a point of conflict that lasts for all of 25 minutes.
It’s not my job to predict if you’ll like something or not; only you can make that choice. But it is my job to tell you why a movie works or doesn’t work for me, and ultimately this one just…doesn’t. It’s not a bad movie, and it certainly won’t achieve Hangover-level status, but I’m slowly beginning to grow weary of Zach Galifianakis in these big studio comedies. Hopefully he can break this streak and take his career in a new direction. Otherwise, get ready to watch him suit up for a live-action adaptation of ALF sometime around 2013. Until next time…