By Gary Murray
Starring Robert Downey Jr., Zach Galifianakis and Michelle Monaghan
Written by Alan R Cohen and Alan Freedland
Directed by Todd Phillips
Running time 100 min
MPAA Rating R
Selig Film Rating Cable
The road comedy has been around almost since the beginning of movies. Stories of different people trapped in the mundane sameness of going across the fruited plains just promises the building of laughs. Crosby and Hope were on the road so many times one had to wonder if they could ever stay in one place. The latest paring is Robert Downey Jr. and Zach Galifianakis in the comedy Due Date.
The story starts at the Atlanta airport where Peter Highman (Robert Downey Jr.) is trying to get back to LA and his pregnant wife Sarah (Michelle Monaghan). Peter has an estranged non-relationship with his dad and wants to be the father that he never experienced. Very early on, Peter is shown as a tough as nails man with little compassion or concern for his fellow human beings.
While being dropped off, he bumps into Ethan Tremblay (Zach Galifianakis) and his dog. Ethan is just the opposite in every way, a man-child who lives life more with a degree of luck than of planning. The dog becomes more of a fashion accessory ala Paris Hilton.
The first mishaps begin at the airport where Peter is screened by airport security. They find a Mad Magazine and a pipe in his luggage. In bumping into Ethan, their things became mixed. On the plane, Ethan and Peter are sat behind one another. An offhand remark by Ethan and corrected by Peter brings attention to the US Marshall on the aircraft.
Peter is shot with a rubber bullet and both men are escorted off the plane. The big problem is that his wallet and suitcases are still on the plane. The agent on the ground lets Peter know that he is now on the 'no-fly' list.
In Atlanta without money or ID, Peter cannot rent a car. Ethan shows up and offers him a ride out to LA. It seems that Ethan is on his way to Hollywood to become an actor with a goal to be on Two and a Half Men. Ethan carries with him the ashes of his father and wants to let them go at the Grand Canyon. Before we can say fill'er up, a road trip movie is born.
The first adventure takes them to off-route where Ethan has to get some medical marijuana from Heidi (Juliette Lewis). As Ethan gets high, Peter has to watch Heidi's kids. There we see how of an out-of-touch parent Peter is going to be. The scene is supposed to be funny but it comes across more as cruel.
Mishaps happen as they make their way to Texas. Peter contacts his college buddy Darryl (Jamie Foxx) who is also a former college friend and former beau of Sarah. Ethan plants seeds of doubt in the mind of Peter, another scene that was supposed to bring huge laughs but again comes across more cruel.
The two men fight and argue, bonding along the way and finding some common ground. Along the way, our main characters get hurt, get high and get in trouble with Mexican Border guards. In one scene, Peter gets into a losing battle with a disabled vet which brings more shocks than laughs. The high scenes go into hallucination, an idea funnier in the Tenacious D flick.
We know where Peter and Ethan are going to end up, in LA and as friends. The supposed joy of Due Date is watching it happen as they make the long trek West.
As much as I think Robert Downey Jr. is one of the premiere actors of his generation, he never finds the right rhythm with his reading of Peter. There are so few scenes of compassion that one has to wonder just how he has a wife and friends. He comes across as relentlessly bitter and angry, a person who just keeps the chips of life stacked on his shoulders. Any little week and those chips come tumbling down with a ferocious zeal.
As much as Zach Galifianakis is becoming the new Hollywood 'it' funny man, he is beginning to show that too much of a good thing can be a bad thing. Where he has had small parts that brought a load of laughs, the more screen time he gets, the less humorous the character. He is like a spice, something that should be used sparingly. The more Hollywood uses his talents, the more of the flavor of the month he is going to become. He is just too much in Due Date.
In the nick picking department, Michelle Monaghan is just too young to be the college sweetheart of either of the men in her life. In the screenplay, both Robert Downey Jr. and Jamie Foxx claim that they knew Sarah twenty years ago in college. That means Michelle should be in her forties, something that takes quite a stretch to believe.
The film does look great with majestic sweeping vistas and shots framed as if they were paintings. Director Todd Phillips makes 'fly over' country more of a character than a backdrop. It is just he has so little to work with in the screenplay. Every comic bit is shown in the trailers and two minutes of solid laughs are a far stretch in a 100 minute film. Some of the jokes that worked so well on the small screen with quick editing lose their punch when placed in the slower paced. The fault of Due Date falls squarely on the shoulders of the writing team which failed to turn a good premise and a fair series of skits into a collective whole movie.
The best way to describe Due Date is that is is a psychotic film, going all over the place and never finding a solid center to generate comedy. While it has a few moments here and there, it is not as funny as you think it is going to be and doesn't live up to the hype.