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Rapid Review: Due Date

November 7, 2010

Robert Downey, Jr. could appear in a five hour miniseries doing nothing but reading the phonebook and I would probably watch every single agonizing minute.  I have no doubt that he would interpret it in a way that would make even Joe Smith’s mundane dairy farmhouse number in Podunk, Ohio seem fascinatingly obtuse and surreal.  He’s one of the greatest working actors in film, and even his “misses” are at least interesting in comparison with the bland careers of many of today’s top actors.

Due Date’s first asset is having a leading actor that is so versatile and appealing.  Add to the mix the rising character actor Zach Galifinakis, whose quirky mania is the sort that seems all-too-real, and you have some pretty incredible stunt-like casting.

harmless banter

Due Date is director Todd Phillips’s follow up to the brutally hilarious The Hangover, a movie that had so much tasteless fun it made me forget he was the same guy who directed Road TripThe Hangover’s appeal came from a snide and uncompromising script, as well as some incredible acting by a wonderful ensemble cast.  Everything clicked.

In Due Date, Phillips once again manages to cast some winning actors to supply the kicks on this sharp shooting  comedy, including Jamie Foxx, the much unfairly maligned Juliette Lewis (who has a knack for wacky comedy) and Downey, Jr’s co-star from Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (another gem of a movie), Michelle Monaghan.

Phillips doesn’t mess around with a winning formula.  Due Date is once again a road trip picture, where Downey, Jr’s character, a tense Type A guy named Peter, must come up against multiple obstacles to beat the clock and arrive in time for the birth of his baby.  As with most road trip films, it is all about the journey.

what happens after harmless banter goes wrong

Taking a cue from Planes, Trains and Automobiles, Peter’s companion on his journey home is  his polar opposite – aspiring thespian Ethan (Galifinakis), whose deadpan face hides a multitude of personality quirks that run the gamut from amusing to irritating.   Ethan’s goal is to make it big in Hollywood, more specifically, to get on Two and a Half Men.  The name of his fansite devoted to the CBS show is one of the better “throw away” jokes in the film.   

The key to Ethan is that you WANT to find that kernel, grain of sand, or atom of likeability in his showy persona.   It takes most of the movie, but thanks to a great performance by Galifinakis, you do end up finding it.  If only the screenplay held together with as much gusto…

As is Phillips’s style, most of the jokes originate in the realm of “dark” comedy, but unlike in The Hangover, many of them seems to be crude simply for the sake of being crude.  Most of these involve stereotypes and riffs on the psychological hang ups of the characters. Due Date doesn’t really push any comedic boundaries or have any one joke that will stand the test of time.

Due Date has some clever and entertaining moments in its first half, but it ends up running out of gas when it heads south (both figuratively and geographically) in the hurried second half, where the mania gets a little too loud and unbelievably chaotic.  It doesn’t quite live up to the devil-may-care genius of The Hangover, getting a little too sappily sentimental in the film’s last half hour.

If you are a Downey, Jr. or a Galifinakis fan, I’d still recommend the movie.  If you are a casual viewer, Due Date may not end up on your must-see-in-theaters list, but is a good bet on DVD.

Overall Grade:  B-

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