Thursday, November 11, 2010

On the Road Again: DUE DATE

After last year’s runaway success with The Hangover, it’s not a surprise to see that director Todd Phillips’s latest film, Due Date, is cut from the same cloth. It’s an aggressive comedy that careens from one comic moment to the next. It spends the entirety of its runtime throwing vulgarity, violence and non-sequiturs at the audience in a nonstop onslaught. It’s comedy of shocks and giggles.

Unlike The Hangover, though, Due Date feels creakier. It’s lumpily formed around the same basic buddy-movie road-trip format that has been around since at least the time Bob Hope and Bing Crosby were always on the road to somewhere. This particularly iteration uses a plot device put to good use in John Hughes’s Planes, Trains, and Automobiles, a film Todd Phillips and his co-writers Alan R. Cohen, Alan Freedland and Adam Sztykiel, must know pretty well. Two dissimilar men are forced to drive cross-country on a deadline. It’s a nice hook on which to hang a plot.

Robert Downey, Jr. plays an architect, a mostly accidental jerk who has to get from Atlanta to Los Angeles to be with his wife (Michelle Monaghan) for the birth of their first child. We know he needs to be taught humility because he talks rapid-fire into a cell phone. Zach Galifianakis is a socially awkward weirdo who happens to be going through some painful grief on his way to L.A. to become an actor. We know he’s a potentially annoying combination of pretentious and oblivious because he wears a scarf.

The two of them get caught up in a misunderstanding that leads to their placement on the No Fly List. Naturally, they decide to rent a car and make the cross-country drive together. This only exaggerates their respective quirks. Downey grows meaner. Galifianakis seems ever stranger. Their personalities are on a collision course, but if you can’t tell by now that they’ll grow to respect each other, you’ve never seen a road trip movie before.

You’d think locking two of our most compelling actors, both of them equally blessed with the gift of seemingly effortless comedic timing, into a car for the duration of a film would produce better results. These two men, plenty funny on their own, display some nice chemistry, but the movie lets them down. It’s clumpy and episodic with the two guys interacting with cameo after cameo, but even worse, the characters never come to life. They begin as flat, one-dimensional types and end the same way, moving about from scene to scene with little change to be found. Along the route the movie is sloppily disengaged without control of tone, expecting the audience to quickly shift from laughing at the characters to feeling overpowering sympathy, often within the blink of an eye.

Even though it disappoints scene to scene, the movie nonetheless gives off a sufficiently pleasant feeling as it unspools. After all, though given little to work with, Downey and Galifianakis are fun to watch. Even when the movie is giving them ridiculously unbelievable episodes to act out, the two of them can almost make it work. It’s the kind of movie that’s just diverting enough to more or less keep me from realizing how much I wasn’t enjoying it. The instant the end credits started, the illusion collapsed.

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