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TBTS Reviews: Due Date

November 7, 2010

The audience with which I viewed Todd Phillips’ Due Date — the much-anticipated follow-up to the breakout, instant-classic The Hangover — clearly wanted to like it more. This was evident in the many moments where things which, in all honesty, were only lightly comical, were over-laughed at by people actively wanting to enjoy the movie more than they probably were. 

This sounds like a slight, but I don’t see it as such. People widely seem to want to like Due Date for many reasons, chiefly among them that they loved The Hangover and would like to see Phillips deliver a second time. They also undoubtedly would like to see the two main leads, Zach Galifianakis and Robert Downey, Jr. — two people adored by film audiences right now — turn out a product as enjoyable as they both have previously. That said, you could do a lot worse than having audiences really want to enjoy your film.

And despite the over-laughing moments of an audience yearning to love something, Due Date is not a bad movie at all. It all just feels a little…trite. 

The elements are all here: Galifianakis as an eccentric well-meaner and Downey, Jr. as an asshole who’s not really an asshole, plus a cross-country road trip with all the fixins: car chases, car accidents, fights, a gun, a drug scene and revelations about one’s self. That said, it’s rather tough for Due Date to miss the mark, which it doesn’t fully.

In fact, the entire affair would seem to owe a lot to another beloved comedy, Planes, Trains and Automobiles, wherein an uptight Steve Martin is forced to travel cross-country with the annoying but endearing John Candy. This is not a terrible movie to base Due Date upon at all, and the updating of the two actors to Downey and Galifianakis is rather inspired casting.

After a mix-up at an Atlanta airport which lands both Downey, Jr.’s type-A architect Peter Highman and Galifianakis’ flaky would-be actor Ethan Tremblay on the no-fly list, the pair finds themselves trekking by automobile to Los Angeles, where Ethan seeks a show business career and Peter races to join his wife for the birth of their first child. Along the way the standard road movie cliches come into play — all quite funny, by the way — and the two characters learn to get along despite their massive differences.

One of the main problems with Due Date is that it feels slightly stilted, as if Phillips isn’t quite sure where the “friendship” or “touching” moments need to be inserted, and as a result these moments seem out of place and ill-paced, and there seem to be a few too many of  them. Of course we, the audience, know that they’ll end up friends in the end — we’re not newcomers to this sort of movie. But as Planes, Trains and Automobiles pulled the “serious” moment out of the blue in a touching, out-of-the-blue way (Candy reveals to Martin that his wife is deceased in a heartwrenching moment which is absolutely melting), Due Date doesn’t seem to have that same caliber of trick up its sleeve, so it substitutes several such mini-moments in lieu of that.

Some of the film’s setpieces are a great amount of fun, however, including a Juliet Lewis cameo, a fight scene featuring Eastbound & Down’s Danny McBride and a daring rescue from the Mexican border. And one gets the feeling that Phillips could have made a buddy road movie every bit as outlandish as The Hangover if he weren’t nagged to show a little heart in it as well. One beauty of both films, it should also be noted, is that both are refreshingly non-raunchy, for the most part — it’s nice to see that a filmmaker like Phillips can make a great comedy without resorting to dick jokes and low-brow, easy sex gags. 

(We should also call things as they really are: The Hangover was lightning in a bottle, a perfect film for just the right moment, and it’s a near-insurmountable task to expect Phillips to duplicate that kind of serendipity again anyway. Even though it’s difficult not to, it’s quite unfair to compare Due Date to it.)

At the end of the day, Due Date isn’t terrible, it’s just probably not going to have a lot of staying power. It’ll make, of course, a bajillion dollars, but it’s the kind of movie which will be largely forgotten in four or five years. It’s not The Hangover, and if you go into it expecting The Hangover, you’ll be as over-laughing and disappointed as the crowd of college students I watched the movie were. It is, however, a solid road movie with great performances by two great comics doing the thing they each do best, and that’s ultimately why Due Date works quite well.

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