A year ago Todd Phillips was the director of what would become the top grossing R rated comedy, THE HANGOVER. Fast forward to now, Phillips is back with an all new R rated comedy, DUE DATE, which feels pretty similar to his previous film. DUE DATE is consistently funny at least for the first hour and is carried almost entirely on the capable shoulders of Robert Downey Jr.
Peter Highman (Robert Downey Jr.) is a successful architect in Atlanta for business and looking to get home to his pregnant wife, Sarah (Michelle Monaghan), in time for the birth of their first baby. Peter arrives at the airport where a traffic incident introduces him for the first time to Ethan Tremblay (Zach Galifianakis), an aspiring actor who claims to have glaucoma and is obsessed with TWO AND A HALF MEN. Once on the plane a seat belt mishap sends Ethan to first class with Peter and an increasingly heated argument gets them ejected from the plane and put on a no fly list. Peter’s wallet and I’d are left on the plane and he is unable to rent a car, until Ethan pulls up and offers him a ride to LA. Peter reluctantly agrees and the two begin a wild and crazy jaunt across the country.
I’d like to start by saying that I believe that DUE DATE is just as funny as THE HANGOVER, but the formula of both films are so similar that many times DUE DATE hits been there done that territory. That’s not to say that I think it is a vastly inferior film, because I found myself laughing out loud several times. I really believe that Phillips is a very talented comedic director, but his last two films contain a first hour of film that are consistently hilarious, but what plagues the films is a third act that starts to fall flat.
The best thing going for DUE DATE was the casting of the ticking time bomb of rage that is Robert Downey Jr. What I love about Downey’s character is that he says all the things I wish I could say to people and does all the things I wish I could do when I get overwhelmingly mad. Some of the best moments are when he is an erupting volcano and lashes out verbally and physically. He also embodies the type of person I can be that when he says or does these mean things he almost immediately feels bad and tries to reach out and apologize for what he’s done. There is something inherently real and human about that type of behavior and is something I can relate to. Galifianakis on the other hand is very much a caricature and his character should just as well had been named Alan as from THE HANGOVER. Ethan is essentially the exact same character except with an expanded role and SLIGHTLY less crazy. I say only slightly because there are some pretty cool moments where a Galifianakis shows a more level side and shows even in a goofball comedy he can show a range of emotion. However, the majority of his role is him being weird and crazy and in an ensemble piece like THE HANGOVER it works in small doses, but grows tiresome with only two main characters. Downey and Galifianakis do have a certain amount of chemistry as a comedic team but it’s pretty clear to me that Galifianakis is no match for Downey’s talent, and it should be mentioned that I enjoyed Downey as Peter Highman in DUE DATE more than his performance as Tony Stark in the IRON MAN films, which is significant because I loved his performance as Stark.
Aside from a few different song selections the music cues seemed to be pasted directly from Phillips’ hit from last year. In fact, there are several gags and jokes that feel like they could have fit right in with THE HANGOVER, but for me they worked slightly better with Robert Downey Jr. spouting the lines and performing the physical comedy, but they still don’t feel as fresh as they might have if this was released first. Another weak aspect of the film is the goofier and over the top moments of the film which include a scene with Danny McBride that starts off very funny then gets extremely ridiculous. There’s also a point towards the end involving a car chase that becomes more and more unbelievable as there doesn’t seem to be any real consequences to the most heinous things the characters are involved in.
There are a few scenes and implied character traits that never really amount to much of anything. When Peter and Ethan arrive in Dallas they meet up with one of Peter’s friends, Daryl (Jamie Foxx), who is apparently a football player with a previous relationship with Sarah, and is a source of contention and jealousy for Peter; but blink and you’ll miss it, because his character is gone almost as soon as he appears, but with a mention at the climax. Also, the film seems to imply that Ethan gay; it is never explicitly said, but with the way that he walks, talks and a conversation towards the end between him and Peter just about spells it out.
For what it is, DUE DATE succeeds in providing a healthy dose of laughs. It’s an easy movie to enjoy if you just sit back shut your brain off and not take too seriously. At times it evokes several déjà vu moments but is different enough from Phillips’ previous films to justify its existence. DUE DATE in the end is two thirds of a laugh out loud road trip comedy that loses steam once the third act kicks in. Phillips though, proves that he can show us a hilarious and fun time out at the movies.