Director: Todd Phillips
Cast: Robert Downey Jr., Zach Galifianakis, Michelle Monaghan, Jamie Foxx, Juliette Lewis, Danny McBride
MPAA Rating: (for language, drug use and sexual content)
Running Time: 1:40
Release Date: 11/5/10
Review by Mark Dujsik | November 4, 2010
Stuck in a car on 2,200 mile road trip with one obnoxious person is more than enough, so while Peter Highman (Robert Downey Jr.) laments his misfortune of having to hitch a ride from Atlanta to Los Angeles with the trouble-causing, id-driven wannabe actor Ethan Tremblay (Zach Galifianakis), we have to put up with Ethan and the occasionally violent (in a rage to the point of blackout even), manic-depressive loose cannon that is Peter. Peter is convinced Ethan is the problem, Ethan is convinced he is the problem, and we wish they would both just calm down their respective acts for a moment at the same time.
The two central characters of Due Date aren't terrible people. The screenplay insists—sometimes goes out of its way—to present them as basically decent guys with their own problems and foibles. Sure Peter gets angry, but he's under a lot of stress, with a pregnant wife (Michelle Monaghan) at home days away from a scheduled C-section. Certainly Ethan has no concept of basic social mores, but he's in mourning over the loss of his beloved father, the man who wanted him to seek out his dream, move to Los Angeles, and become an actor.
The problem arises when the goofball starts to look like the sane, stable one. After all, Ethan just causes a car crash due to his penchant for heavy sleeping, voices Peter's own concerns that his wife might be cheating on him, and masturbates every night before going to sleep even if someone is sleeping next to him (His dog joins in, which we can tell even before the graphic close-up, thank you).
Ethan doesn't, on the other hand, spit in a dog's face, viciously choke his companion, or insult a veteran in a wheelchair (Danny McBride). Those are all Peter's quirks, although, in his defense, he didn't know the veteran had been wounded (as though that makes it much better).
The scale is tipped pretty heavily on the side of insanity with the dynamic between Peter and Ethan, but there's no progression to their oddities. One is a jerk from the start, while the other is a certifiable boor. The momentum stalls, partially because the script (by foursome Alan R. Cohen, Alan Freedland, Adam Sztykiel, and director Todd Phillips) wobbles back and forth between Peter's rage and his desire to become better and Ehtan's idiocy and his vulnerable, wounded nature. Also, Phillips' timing and focus during the more significant comic set pieces (the car crash, a chase across the border of Mexico, and the one-sided fight with the veteran) is scattershot.
Madcap material like this needs a sense of thrust, and it at least opens with it. The two meet by glance at the airport after an accident in front of the terminal. After an accidental swap of luggage, Peter finds himself sitting in front of Ethan in business class. Ethan says a combination of the worst two words one can say on a plane nowadays, leading to a federal marshal shooting Peter with a rubber bullet and tossing the pair off the plane. Without his luggage or his wallet, Peter is forced to accept a ride back to Los Angeles with Ethan.
The sequence aboard the plane builds in intensity to a distinct punchline while still offering information. Compare it to the fight with the veteran working as a clerk at a local Western Union to pick up money Peter's wife has wired to him. The scene depends entirely upon the antagonistic and oddball personality of the clerk. Then there's the chase near the border, which is merely dependant on the confusion of Ethan driving Peter in a trailer attached to a truck.
These scenes don't grow out of any natural point. Peter and Ethan's primary characteristics change on the spot, depending on the necessary requirements to accomplish some sort of joke. Hence the false feeling that comes with Peter's wild mood swings. He is whatever the script needs him to be at the moment. At one moment he's suspicious of his best friend (Jamie Foxx) and wife, and before it can even become an issue, he shifts gears, apologizing for his jealousy (Why raise the subplot in the first place?).In spite of Peter's unsympathetic nature and Ethan's forced social awkwardness, Due Date benefits from Downey and Galifianakis, who play characters—no matter how off-putting—and not broad personalities or to the jokes. They do not single-handedly make the successful moments of the movie (and there are a few), but they lend the movie a far better credibility than it deserves.
Copyright © 2010 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.
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