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When I was in college, we would often have special screenings of new release movies and serve as a “Marketing Test Audience”. I got to see a whole bunch of cool movies before they came out, and the one that sticks out in my memory the most was Planes, Trains, and Automobiles. I remember telling all my friends how amazing this film was and how they should all go and see it. Since then, I have become a road warrior for my job (hence the lack of posts recently, sorry about that) and the antics of John Candy and Steve Martin as they deal with business travel still ring true today. So when I heard that Warner Brothers was releasing a similar travel buddy film, I ran out to the theater with high hopes.
Due Date centers on Peter Highman (Robert Downey Jr.) a traveling architect who is trying to get home to his wife Sarah, who is going to be giving birth to their first child. While arriving at the airport, he bumps into a fledgeling actor named Ethan Tremblay (Zach Galifianakis). The two accidentally swap luggage and through some very funny cirmstances end up on a “no fly” list. Ethan offers to drive Peter home in his rental car as Peter’s wallet has gone missing. Peter reluctantly agrees and the two of them share some zany adventures as they try to get home in time for the birth of Peter’s child.
This movie has some good things going for it. First, Zach Galifianakis is his usual funny self, plyaing the most annoying car mate you could ever imagine. Ethan is socially inept and completely unaware of how his actions and conversations make those around him uncofortable. In a large room, one could always walk away from such a person, but Downey is stuck in a small vehicle with him for a few days. It’s a similar to his role of Adam in last summer’s big hit The Hangover. Yet, underneath his annoying exterior we find a very humble and decent guy. One could say that Ethan is lost; dealing with losing his Dad and trying to define who is he is by going to Hollywood. It takes a lot of work to portray a guy who is so outwardly annoying and yet so inwardly fragile and Galifianakis pulls it off marvelously. Downey’s character is much simpler, and yet he manages to convince us of his inward struggle of wanting to strangle Ethan versus understanding who Ethan really is.
Second, there are a couple of fantastically funny scenes in this film, including two that center on Ethan’s dog Sunny (who appearantly has learned a pretty nifty trick). But for me, these moments don’t come often enough as director Todd Phillips focuses on character-revealing dialogue to tell this story. I must say that this kinda caught me off guard, as I was hoping to see the ramped up crazy shit that we saw develop in The Hangover. But sadly, the movie doesn’t have the pacing or edge that made that other film work so well.
John Hughes had success with Planes Trains and Automobiles by taking two opposite people and placing them into outlandish situations. These characters struggled to get along while battling what the travel world threw at them together. It was overcoming these situations that created the friendship and the heartwarming reveal at the end of that film. In Due Date, we watch and laugh as the smart guy gets beat up and tortured by the antics of the dumb guy. This would be perfectly fine, except that we are asked to believe that some friendship is brewing out of that, and it didn’t quite work for me.
Don’t get me wrong, Due Date is a funny movie, and there are just enough laughes to make your movie experience worthwhile. But with the comedic talents of its stars and the pedigree of its director, this movie could have been so much more. It’s certainly a good date movie for a weekend matinee, but I would hesitate to pay full price or buy the DVD.
Rating = 3 buckets-o-popcorn