Due Date is essentially a darker Planes, Trains, & Automobiles-style road-trip movie with a familiar premise: a successful family man is forced to team up with an oddball screw-up to make it home in time for an important life event, in this case, the birth of his first child.
In his most recent feature, Todd Philips, the filmmaker responsible for Old School, Starsky & Hutch and Road Trip among other high-profile dude-comedies of the 2000’s, doesn’t come close to sustaining the manic fever pitch that made his inventive but flawed 2009 comedy The Hangover a box office success. While there are plenty of genuinely funny and touching moments in Due Date, they typically come courtesy of the committed performances of the actors, who do a lot of the heavy-lifting to overcome a disjointed and inconsistent script.
Fortunately, Philips once again employs the considerable comedic talent of Zach Galafanakis, who turns in a memorable performance as Ethan Tremblay, an aspiring television actor with a little dog and a fresh perm (as in permanent) seeking his fortune and fame in Hollywood. Galafanakis’ straight-faced and sincere delivery of lines such as “Dad… you were like a father to me,” is a testament to his tremendous lovable loser appeal.
New to Philips’ cadre of actors is Robert Downey Jr., who basically functions as Galafanakis’ straight man and foil in his role as uptight father-to-be Peter Highman, an architect who finds himself stranded in Atlanta, Georgia days before his wife’s scheduled Caesarean Section in Los Angeles thanks to Tremblay’s pre-flight antics that land both of them on the No Fly List. With Peter’s wallet left on the plane, he is forced to team up with Tremblay for a three day cross-country trek by car.
The dynamic between the two actors is often compelling, but Peter Highman is not nearly as relatable as he needs to be to carry the film as its intrepid protagonist. He is unnecessarily mean-spirited and full of vitriol even before he is beset by the traumatic events that should make us feel something besides pity for him.
While the prospect of a road trip movie starring the charismatic Robert Downey Jr. and funny man de jour Zach Galafanakis in the roles once filled by Steve Martin and John Candy respectively is a promising concept that begins fairly well, Due Date loses its focus in fairly short order.
Although scenes like Zach Galafanakis explaining to a stoned Robert Downey Jr. the finer points of Two and a Half Men make for some original laugh-out-loud moments, Due Date feels more like a compilation of haphazard stand-alone skits than a carefully crafted screenplay. While the episodic nature of road trip movies lends itself to this sort of problem, Philips and his four-person writing committee seem unable to establish much of a consistent narrative thread to knit the film together.
The closest Due Date comes to achieving any comedic momentum worthy of Philips’ best work is the inspired Mexican-border escape sequence. Unfortunately, this refreshing sense of spontaneity is quickly forgotten as the film meanders its way towards its predictable and likely inevitable conclusion.
All the elements necessary for a great comedy are there: a compelling premise, dynamic actors and some truly funny ideas, it just feels underdeveloped, which is why the film is so disappointing.
That said; there is enough to like about Due Date to make it worth seeing if you’re a fan of Galafanakis. Just don’t expect another Hangover.