"Due Date" is a hugely disappointing film. Todd Phillip's follow-up to "The Hangover", one of the funniest films in recent memory, relies on an oft-copied formula and the basic conceit that everyone in the story is one-dimensional and pretty stupid. These two problems add up to "create" (har, har!) a miserable little film experience.
Peter Highman (Robert Downey, Jr.) is an architect currently working on assignment in Atlanta. He and his wife (Michelle Monaghan) are pregnant; Peter is the type of uptight guy who can come up with a reason to reject everyone of his wife's baby name choices. Scheduled to fly home the next day, Peter has left plenty of cushion for the baby's birth on Friday. But Peter bumps in to Ethan Tremblay (Zach Galifianakis), literally, as soon as they both arrive at the airport. Before you can say "Homeland Security", both men, who are naturally on the same flight to Los Angeles, get bumped off the flight and further circumstances conspire to keep them grounded. They end up sharing a rental car for the long drive from Atlanta to Los Angeles. Or Hollywood as Ethan, an actor headed to an important audition, keeps referring to it.
This film should've been called "Planes, Automobiles and even more Automobiles". How many times can they remake the seminal John Hughes film? In fact, if I remember correctly, Steve Martin also played an architect. I guess in Hollywood-speak, architect equals uptight and anal which is a necessary trait for one half of the duo to make this concept work. At least, it is necessary if you want to put as little thought as possible into the creation of a film.
Downey is basically the straight man. Because he is so uptight and anal, every moment Peter and Ethan are on the road, confined together is a rental car, will test him, making him wince, cringe or get inpatient. In a better film, most of these moments would be new and original. In "Due Date", many of these moments seem recycled, often from earlier moments. And this just makes the movie seem longer and more problematic.
As the straight man, Downey simply has to react to Galifianakis' shenanigans. But to make Peter work, we have to like his character. Or at least care about him. But because all he does is react, usually in mean ways, to his road trip partner, we never have the chance or a reason to give a flying fig about the uptight architect. Granted, Ethan does extremely annoying things, but because we don't care about Peter, his tormentor seems like a saint.
Galifianakis comes closest to making us care about this stereotype than anyone has come since John Candy. He has the same sort of naïve innocence about him, a certain clueless, endearing quality that helps us learn to care about him, no matter how stupid he may be. He first appears wearing a Lilith Fair t-shirt, a scarf and pants that may be two sizes too small. Then, we notice his perm (as do many others they interact with). His oddball appearance seems sweet and natural for his character. But this quality quickly wears thin and he often simply becomes annoying; Part of the reason for this is his decisions seem so random. This trait also robs Ethan of any empathy/ Because he is so annoying, when he does do something amusing, we can't see it or enjoy it.
Practically everything in this film that is supposed to be funny happens because every character excercises no common sense. Without even the smallest bit of reality, we can't identify with anyone and nothing is funny. For instance, when Peter moves through security at the Atlanta airport, he is stopped for a search and the TSA agent (RZA) finds a marijuana pipe in his bag. After a brief exchange, we next join up with Peter on the airplane as everyone else is boarding. Huh? In what world?
In addition to RZA, Juliette Lewis, Danny McBride and Jamie Foxx pop up for brief cameos. Because of the nature of this film, Peter and Ethan traveling cross-country, they will meet and interact with people, but these interactions will be brief. The filmmakers include these moments to put a new obstacle in the path of the main characters, to infuse some new humor into the story. But these moments are, as stated, brief, and in "Due Date", none of them work. "Borat" is a recent, better example of this same idea.
I'm not sure why someone like Jamie Foxx would do such a small, insignificant role. He is a better and funnier actor than this material. What does it do for his career? Fill some time, pay for a small portion of his house? I don't get it.
However, for RZA, Lewis and McBride, their participation makes sense. Each gets a moment, hopefully a funny showcase in the new film by the director of "The Hangover". If the cameo works, maybe a career is resurrected, more work is offered. Guys, I wouldn't count on anything coming from your participation in this project.
Maybe the worst problem with "Due" is it just has no new ideas. It even seems to run out of stean and they begin to recycle confrontations and ideas from earlier in the film.
If "Due Date" were funny, all of this could be forgiven. Every year, the best dramas receive the highest praise and the most awards. But as any comedian will tell you, making a good comedy is a very hard thing to do. When they work, they should receive equal praise. Given the number of truly funny films we get to see every year, this theory would seem to be true. Something, somewhere wasn't clicking during the production of "Due Date". Making a good comedy is very hard indeed.