Films like Due Date come with an inherent red flag. They reek of flavor of the moment formula schlock, and unless you are a 24-year-old male looking for some mind numbing fare to take your gal to see at the megaplex, a film like Due Date screams “Rental!”
But, while films like The Hangover (2009) and most of the Judd Apatow/Dennis Dugan library have attempted to corner the market on below-the-belt shock humor, writer-director Todd Phillip’s Due Date is ultimately just a tried and true buddy road movie, more like Midnight Run (1988) and Tommy Boy (1995) than Get Him to the Greek (2010) or Superbad (2007).
Through a chance encounter curbside at the airport, our two heroes end up squabbling on the airplane, drawing attention and landing themselves on the “no fly” list. Somewhat logical circumstances deliver them into the same rental car and the journey begins.
This film is a full-blown bromance.
Robert Downey Jr. plays ‘Peter Highman,’ a reasonably well-adjusted but high-strung professional anxious to get home in time for the birth of his first child. Zach Galifianakis plays ‘Ethan Tremblay,’ an effeminate, quasi-Bohemian “23-yr-old” wannabe actor who is on his way to Hollywood to fulfill his destiny of stardom (he dreams of being on Two and a Half Men…). He also holds the ashes to his recently deceased father in a coffee can, hoping to make it to the Grand Canyon for a ceremonial sprinkle.
Goofball du jour Danny McBride shows up midway through the odyssey and does what he seemingly does best: add fuel to the circumstantial fire. Much like his contribution to Pineapple Express (2008), McBride, playing a Western Union employee who just so happens to also be an Iraqi war vet, throws down with Downey Jr. in one of the film’s funnier scenes, brandishing a whooping stick while in a wheel chair.
The beat down results in Downey Jr. insulting Galifianakis’ actor persona in another amusing moment where Galifianakis is challenged to portray a coach trying to pump up his team at half time. Here is where the film finds its heart. Through all of the silliness, both characters are missing something in their lives – and we begin to care.
Then, back to the silliness.
At one point they accidentally mix in some of the ashes into a pot of coffee. “Sorry we drank your father,” ‘Peter’ says sheepishly to ‘Ethan.’ “It’s ok. We only had three cups. So there’s about eight cups of my dad left.” Then ‘Ethan’ finds the silver lining. “At least he tasted good,” to which ‘Peter’ responds “Not bad. Strong. Full flavored. Robust blend.”
It’s easy to overlook how strong an actor Robert Downey Jr. is, mostly because he does so many things so well. In Due Date he is relegated often to the unfamiliar territory of straight man to Galifianakis’ doofus. But the script (credited to four writers, usually a bad sign) affords plenty of good yucks for both actors. Much like Seth Rogen, Galifianakis wears you down with his vulnerable likeability. To call him a non-threatening male would be an insult to most of Hollywood’s marquee non-threatening males (Jude Law, Orlando Bloom, Jake Gyllenhaal). Galifianakis is more asexual John Belushi with a heavy touch of Jack Black. He pulls off a pretty good Brando too. Funny stuff.
Unfortunately, the film cannot resist the Hangover temptation of a couple of tasteless scenes that would be better left to one’s imagination. But overall, while my expectation for Due Date was prematurely low – the delivery was more than satisfying.