Expectations can be one thing — and when your last film (The Hangover) is the highest grossing R-rated comedy of all time you can only imagine how hard it could be to follow that up. A long line of successful comedies in general can be a tough act to string along when you’re continually trying to one-up yourself. This may not be director Todd Phillips ultimate goal but it is definitely his trend. While his new comedy, Due Date isn’t exactly a masterpiece, he sets the bar higher in other aspects if not where you would think.
Situational comedy in film is something that most people call an acquired taste. Ok, let’s be honest, most people don’t like in movies. Many would claim it belongs on the boob tube with a laugh track playing in the background, something like Two and a Half Men instantly springs to mind here. Maybe it’s because it’s the brunt of a spectacular joke that’s far funnier than that show has ever actually been in spite of its viewership.
While this year’s earlier Dinner for Schmucks was far funnier than its box office numbers would suggest, it makes me think that the sole success of Due Date will strictly rely on the cult following of Phillips, and it doesn’t hurt to have Robert Downey, Jr. and Zach Galifianakis in starring roles. With four credited writers, it’s not as much of a surprise. While there seems to be a lot of ad-libbing going on, Phillips, along with Alan R. Cohen, Alan Freedland and Adam Sztykiel have come up with enough hilariously taboo situations, one-liners, and anecdotes to make up for the far zanier and over-the-top sequences that sneak into the final third of the film.
Peter Highman (Downey, Jr.) is just trying to board his flight in Atlanta, Ga. to get home for the birth of his first child. After Peter meet-cutes Ethan Tremblay (Galifianakis) at the airport not only does their luggage get swapped but they both get grounded and stuck on the No Fly List after a scuffle on board involving a cell phone and an Air Marshal. Ethan is nice enough to offer Peter a ride home to Los Angeles (Ethan claims to be an aspiring actor on his way to Hollywood) as his wallet and drivers license were left aboard. Faster than you can say Planes, Trains & Automobiles, hilarity ensues. Knowing as little about the plot is your greatest asset here.
While Steve Carell’s Barry character in Schmucks was called, “a tornado of destruction,” a meeting of the mind’s between him and Ethan would send Barry running for the hills. Here is a man so out of touch with his surroundings that he continually refers to himself as 23 years old, thinks a headshot works as a picture ID, and isn’t ashamed to masturbate in the car seat next to Peter just to get himself to sleep. Even if it means his dog Sunny needs to participate by masturbating in the backseat as well.
One thing definitely goes for Todd Phillips: at least his movies progressively look more like real films. Maybe his inflating budgets are making him more able to hire real cinematographers and better editors. Speaking of which, at a scant 96 minutes, the pacing is more assured and there are fewer spots that tend to drag.
As for Downey, Jr. and Galifianakis, a better pairing for this movie could not have existed. While Galifianakis is starting to be typecast with Ethan being the naïve madman with a heart of gold, if it weren’t for Downey, Jr. playing Peter, that character would have been far too unlikeable. He really is quite a douche. Thankfully, Downey, Jr. has so encompassed the everyman role that even when he’s sucker – punching a youngster or spitting on Ethan’s dog – you just can’t help but empathize with him. So while everyone may be expecting Due Date to be The Hangover 2, this is a whole other beast. Feel free to hitch a ride with the new odd couple from hell; just make sure you don’t drink the coffee.
Photo courtesy Warner Bros. Pictures