Due Date: An All-Star Cast Can’t Save This Date

The reason why Zach Galifianakis is such a funny comedic foil is because he doesn’t seem to be in on the joke. He does outrageous things and says awkward one-liners with such earnestness and such a disregard for what his audience might think that instead of seeming like some absurd cartoon, he finds a certain humanity and heart in his strangeness. Unfortunately, Todd Phillips, who made him a Hollywood star in The Hangover, makes him into an obnoxious, unlikable, and (worst of all) one-note character. Due Date is the type of Hollywood comedy where the stars come first and then the story. Folks thought it’d be funny to watch Galifianakis and Downey Jr. interact because they’re both so funny in other films. Until about the last half hour of the film, Due Date successfully removes the elements of their characters that we loved before.

Peter (Robert Downey Jr.) is on his way home from Atlanta to Los Angeles to make it in time for his wife (Michelle Monaghan)’s C-section, when he gets stopped by airport security. He accidentally traded bags with Ethan Tremblay (Zach Galifianakis), who had marijuana paraphernalia in his carry-on luggage. Then, Ethan continually mentions the words “terrorist” and “bomb” on the plane, and due to a misunderstanding that literally defies logic, Peter gets shot with rubber bullets by the air marshal and put on the no-fly list. Ethan offers to take him to LA since he’s going to Hollywood himself to become an actor. Through their road trip, Ethan continually does innocently horrible things to Peter, and Peter continually gets really angry at Ethan, yet continually the plot manufactures unrealistic ways to keep them together. Remember the film Planes Trains and Automobiles? It’s like that, if Steve Martin was meaner and unlikable, John Candy was one-dimensional and unlikable, and the script was shoddy.

There are some funny moments. Galifianakis’ trademark delivery gets some chuckles in spots despite his character, and a few cameos, especially one by Danny McBride as a “handicapable” veteran now working at a Western Union, definitely liven the festivities. Yet the whole thing feels very smug, as if it’s assuming we’re laughing solely because two likable movie stars are in it. Phillips can’t decide whether he wants the movie to get dark and the characters truly unlikable, or whether it works best as a merry romp, so he’ll have a character commit an unforgivable act of meanness towards another, but then have a sweet moment where they feel bad and reveal why they behave in such a mean manner (for Downey Jr. it’s wife-related stress, for Galifianakis it’s the recent passing of his dad). Thus, both characters are wishy-washy, never learning their lessons, always repeating their sins, always asking for forgiveness, always temporarily forgiving the other until the cycle continues. It’s obnoxious.

The plot short cuts through real human emotions and reactions in order to make the story as conveniently streamlined as possible. Example: Peter has a friend (Jamie Foxx) who lives in Dallas pick him up at the Dallas hospital where he was very conveniently taken after a car crash. Peter is so mad that he tells Ethan everything he hates about him, and then spits in his dog’s face. This actually gets a laugh from the audience because it’s shocking yet understandable– Ethan’s cartoonish intolerable behavior is enough to make anyone do that. Yet when Peter gets in the truck, Jamie Foxx convinces him in a matter of roughly ten seconds to call Ethan and let him ride in the truck with them. Why? Because you can’t separate Peter and Ethan in a movie like this, and the writers fail to think of a more clever way to keep them together. Also, Peter spends the whole film despising everything about Ethan… and then after one scene, he immediately forgives everything from the past and says, “I love you, man.” Ethan’s face relaxes and we’re supposed to say “Awwww” as Ethan smiles… except the scene is totally phony because it goes against everything the film had established to date, and one event wouldn’t erase an entire past so thoroughly. In order for a comedy to work, characters must stay consistent, they must stay human, and the story must be clever. This film follows none of those three traits.

Am I being unfair on this film? Maybe. I actually found the last half hour, once the characters kind of liked each other, to have charm– here was the buddy movie I wanted, where instead of another Odd Couple knockoff, we have a more interesting and more human relationship. But it was too late to redeem the film as a whole. It has perhaps two of the funniest actors in Hollywood in its film, and the hottest writer/director of comedies at the helm, and yet for some reason it BEGS for our approval. It’s not enough that Ethan be eccentric, so Phillips has Galifianakis wear outrageous outfits, sport a perm, and walk like a woman with his tiny dog in tow. It’s not enough that Peter be stressed about getting home to his wife and upcoming kid, but he also must be stressed about his wife’s fidelity in a bizarre subplot that has literally zero payoff. Would it have killed them to make Peter a nice guy and see how a nice caring individual behaves with Ethan? Would it have killed them to make Ethan less obviously a buffoon and instead reveal it organically? Due Date acts like subtlety is a dead language and attempts to beat its audience into submission and waterboard them with outlandish behavior until we are forced to laugh. I think the film may work better as a series of Youtube clips, where we don’t have to worry about story or character, but instead just watch zany hijinks and one-liners all in a row, because individual scenes taken out of the film’s context are actually quite funny. Perhaps, sadly, that’s why this film is destined to be a big hit.

~ by russellhainline on November 8, 2010.

One Response to “Due Date: An All-Star Cast Can’t Save This Date”

  1. Wow! Nice article. I like it. 🙂

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