Directed by Todd Phillips
Movie Review by Chris Cabin
To put it plainly, Peter Highman (Robert Downey Jr.) is a miserable son of a bitch when we meet him in the opening scenes of Todd Phillips's new film Due Date. Returning home to Los Angeles after business takes him out to Atlanta, Peter, an architect, finds his name printed on a "No Fly" list after an encounter with a federal marshal, brought on by his second encounter with Ethan Tremblay (Zach Galifianakis) -- dog lover, would-be actor, and grade-A pothead. Though obviously not one for handouts, Peter reluctantly accepts Ethan's offer to drive him to Los Angeles to witness the birth of his first-born son, not knowing that the bearded, perm-loving Hollywood wannabe is basically a furry ball of perversity and wanton destruction.
Galifianakis and Downey Jr. are deft comic performers, and Phillips has displayed genuine talent at staging comedic episodes, both in Old School and The Hangover. So it's strange that sometimes Due Date feels like something more than a comedy. True, there are many memorable comic moments, such as a run-in with a Western Union employee (the invaluable Danny McBride) and an accidental attempt to cross the Mexican border while stoned on weed and vicodin. But the undercurrents of the film suggest darker themes about the realities of parenthood than one might have guessed from the outset. Sure, it's funny when Downey unapologetically slugs a pot dealer's (Juliette Lewis) bratty son, but Phillips plays it dryly, drawing attention to the reality that this man will be dealing with a similar brat within a mere matter of days.
Punctuating this morbid contemplation of fatherhood is the coffee can that Ethan carries around, full of his father's ashes, which, in one of the film's more misguided passages, is used as coffee grounds by Peter's best friend (Jamie Foxx). The template for Phillips's film, which was co-written by Alan R. Cohen, Alan Freedland, Adam Sztykiel, and the director, is obviously indebted to John Hughes' well-remembered Planes, Trains and Automobiles, which saw corporate stiff Steve Martin dealing with jolly, crude everyman John Candy, who was also recuperating from the death of a loved one.
Hughes, as he often did, opted for sentimentality: The stiff is frustrated, angered, and, ultimately, forever moved by the generous spirit of the dope. Phillips's trajectory is similar but the tone is far more complex, dangerous, and unstable. A man-child who depends on masturbation to sleep and worships Two and a Half Men, Ethan is a monstrous vision of Peter's yet-to-be-born son; a decimating creature meant to deplete Peter of all patience, cause him immense bodily harm, and destroy every material object that he holds dear, except for the stuffed animal Peter plans to give to his baby. Peter receives a gunshot in his legs and several stitches, breaks his arm and his ribs, loses his wallet, identification, and clothing and comes out on the other end fully prepared to be a better father.
For the film's first hour, Downey boldly submits to the role of Peter, a completely unlikable fellow save the fact that he is a seemingly good husband to his wife (Michelle Monaghan). The chemistry between this immovable object and Galifianakis's unstoppable force carries the film through even some of its more absurd clichés. But soon after Ethan suggests that Foxx's character may be the father of Peter's baby, the film loses much of this stability by focusing on extraneous characters and strained and easily prognosticated dramatic turns. Believability is thrown completely to the wind during a car chase that leads the pair to the Grand Canyon and yet another minor moment of catharsis for Peter.
Phillips shows tremendous ability in the film's first hour, but he still needs to shed off more of the clichés and gross-out stunts -- the masturbating dog, the drug trip, the underdeveloped subplots -- to reveal his unique and original view of the American psyche refracted in the American landscape amongst eccentrics and lost souls, like those minor characters played by McBride, the hip-hop artist RZA and, in a small role, the director himself. As an argument between Peter and Ethan goes, whether it's all uphill or downhill from here has yet to be decided
Starring: Robert Downey Jr., Jamie Foxx, Juliette Lewis