Due Date (2010) - Can't Stop the Movies
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Due Date (2010)

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Andrew DISLIKETodd Phillips has been quietly churning out small hits for Hollywood over the last eleven years.  Most of those films have been better than average knock-offs of American Pie, but they were all charming in their own little way.  Now after the monster success of The Hangover he had what was essentially a blank check to do whatever film he wanted.

I was not expecting him to do a film as strangely repellent as Due Date.  On paper it's essentially an updated take on Planes, Trains and Automobiles with the prodigiously talented Zach Galifanakis and Robert Downey Jr.  Toss in Todd Phillips already subtle sweetness that eeks into his films and it seems like the perfect mixture.  Then something went horribly wrong in the execution.

Due Date is all over the map, combining Phillips "everything plus the kitchen sink plus the feces" approach from The Hangover with some heavy dramatic elements and an unstable and vicious main character that is nearly impossible to like.  All of this might have been palatable if the film was funny, but outside of one great scene and a couple of chuckle-worthy sight gags the film misfires way too often to work.

This is roughly the level of off-putting contempt that Peter has throughout the whole movie.

Robert Downey Jr. has the Steve Martin role in Due Date.  He's Peter Highman, a businessman on his way home to his wife Sarah (Michelle Monaghan), who is about to have their first child via a C-section.  In the airport car lane a taxi with aspiring actor Ethan Tremblay (Zach Galifanakis) rear ends the taxi carrying Peter.  They lock eyes very briefly and Ethan tries to become friends with Peter on the plane.

Once aboard, they're quickly mistaken for terrorists because Ethan won't stop using words like "bomb" and Peter just won't stop repeating them.  So with Peter and Ethan on the no-fly list and Peter missing his wallet, he takes up Ethan's offer to travel cross country so that Peter can get to the hospital in time to be with his wife.

What's fantastic about this film is the performance by Zach Galifianakis as Ethan, who is travelling to find the perfect spot to lay his dad's ashes to rest.  He's been one of the smartest comics working for a very long time and he touches on a lot of the hurt that Ethan is going through in a couple of astonishing moments.  The best of those moments takes place in a restroom where an exasperated Peter asks Ethan to display his acting skills by pretending that his wife is asking for a divorce.  The way that Galifanakis slips from "this is all a game" to "I'm in a quiet hell" was startlingly good and would have been worthy of the original Planes, Tranes and it's climactic reveal.

The problem is that this is the scene that is supposed to humanize Peter and show Ethan's pain.  Before this point Peter has been an irredeemable bully by badmouthing Ethan endlessly, beating children, and being mean to just about everyone around him.  After this point Peter changes for a couple of minutes before going back to being violent and angry.  Then there's another touching Ethan moment.  Then Peter goes back to being angry.  The pattern repeats until the emotional punch is completely numbed, especially since poor Ethan just sticks with it.

This scene hit me hard, it's just a shame that it gets repeated four or five more times.

This isn't to say there aren't some funny moments.  The greatest involves a show down with a U.S. Express employee played by Danny McBride where he beats up a very deserving Peter.  Then there's some fun with a late film pot hallucination featuring a man in a bear suit.  But going from "man in a bear suit" to "emotional breakdown" to "beating children" is a bit too much to stoumach.

In the end I didn't want to spend any more time with Peter and saw no reason that Ethan would want to either short of his crippling emotional neediness.  Michelle Monaghan is also given a pretty thankless role since she gets to alternate between fretting when her husband is going to arrive and delivering a baby.  There's also what should have been a plum role for Jamie Foxx as Sarah's ex and Peter's friend, but what starts plausible ends cartoonish and dumb.

Due Date is the kind of ambitious failure that Todd Phillips was bound to make sooner or later.  Downey and Galifianakis are both very effective in their roles, but they weren't put to use in a film that really knew what it wanted to do.  Planes, Trains is the total package, Due Date is just a sad stack of elements that weren't put in the right proportion.

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Due Date (2010)

Directed by Todd Phillips.
Screenplay by Alan R. Cohen, Alan Freedland, Adam Sztykiel and Todd Phillips.
Starring Robert Downey Jr., Zach Galifianakis, and Michelle Monaghan.

Posted by Andrew

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