November 6, 2010

Due Date (11/06/2010)

Lettergrade: F

Apart from a dozen or so really good laughs, most of Due Date is pretty terrible. I don't mean terrible in the way that highly entertaining movies like UHF or The Kentucky Fried Movie or even Happy Gilmore are terrible, where a large part of the joke seems to be that a movie so strange somehow got made and was put in theaters in the first place. No, I mean terrible in the sense that it's derivative as hell of older, better movies... it leans heavily on tired cliches and on Zach Galifianakis's schtick in order to get from scene to scene... and it goes for cheap, bludgeoning sentiment that is completely unearned and totally unmoving. I don't ask for much from movies, but I do insist that the characters in them behave in patterns that are at least semi-consistent with actual human behavior. A lot of the characters in Due Date act like people who learned how to conduct themselves in life by watching other movies, and that drives me up a wall.

As the picture begins, smug architect Robert Downey Jr. is on his way to catch a flight from Atlanta back home to LA, allowing plenty of time for him to be there for his wife's planned c-section at the end of the week. Of course, Galifianakis-style hijinks somehow get the two placed on the No Fly List, and so the Oscar and Felix strangers team up to make the 2000 mile trip together (you know, sort of like Planes, Trains And Automobiles, or Midnight Run, or the middle of Tommy Boy, or the second half of Twins, or certain segments of Rain Man).

The main problem, I think, is that the picture seriously miscasts Downey Jr. in a mean-spirited part that pretty much destroys any chance the rest of the movie had of being funny. He's a cruel, indignant cad pretty much from frame one of this sucker, a choice that doesn't really work when played up against the otherwise-very-funny Galifianakis, who again goes with his type and plays a sweaty, awkward dude who is well intentioned, but highly irritating. He worked so well in The Hangover because he was a complete and total surprise: There were three normalish guys on a bachelor party weekend and then this very unusual, mentally unstable, bearded psycho creating all kinds of uncomfortable moments and unknowingly derailing everything. But it really falls flat in Due Date and I hold Downey Jr. responsible for that. I feel like it might have functioned a bit better if the character had been a bit softer: a Paul Rudd or a John Krasinski, if you will, who could maybe be pleasantly tolerant of Galifianakis's wake of destruction before gradually losing his shit on him.

On that subject, let's have a closer look at 1987's Planes, Trains And Automobiles (Due Date's four screenwriters sure as hell did!)... John Candy's antagonism of Steve Martin is similar to the point where the John Hughes estate should really think about pressing charges. The antagonism works in that movie, however, because Martin has a great deal of natural charm and even when he hits his breaking point, there has been a relatable build that allows you to sympathize with his tantrum. Like in this family friendly scene:

In the very first scene of Due Date, Downey Jr. treats even the slightest offense with a Keith Olbermann level of outrage ("How dare you SIR!!!), and the almost instant result was that I didn't like the guy, I didn't care about whatever Galifianakis did to him, and I had very little investment in whether or not he got to his wife in time. Seems like a pretty fatal miscalculation, huh?

But character problems aside, this movie has some other serious issues. A solid number two on my list of grievances is its highly episodic nature. The guys go to one place and a certain amount of segmented wackiness ensures for a bit, but then they move on to another place and another kind of completely random wackiness happens. These self-indulgent and nonsensical segments include such unrelated highlights as:
•Danny McBride as a disabled Western Union clerk who beats Downey Jr. up?
•Jamie Foxx as Downey Jr's pro football best friend in Texas, whom Downey Jr. suddenly suspects is the actual father of his to-be-born child??
•An extended sequence where the boys visit an Alabama pot dealer played by Juliette Lewis, for whom Galifianakis performs scenes from The Godfather, much like Jon Lovitz did in City Slickers II: The Legend Of Curly's Gold???
Worse yet, the events of these sequences often BEAR NO CONSEQUENCES WHATSOEVER FOR ANYTHING THAT FOLLOWS IN THE MOVIE. What about the climactic scene where Galifianakis busts Downey Jr. out of a border patrol facility that he was sent to for attempting to sneak marijuana across the Mexican border? He drives a stolen government truck through a high security INS compound, smashing through walls and causing thousands dollars worth of damage. Sounds like a pretty serious national security incident to me... but one that doesn't seem to merit any reaction from the law enforcement officials of the southwestern United States at all in subsequent scenes. They even keep the stolen government truck and take it all the way back to Los Angeles, but no one comes looking for it once the scene is over. But wait... I guess they did get the pot from Juliette Lewis earlier in the movie, so I guess that's some continuity between the movie's segments.

Director Todd Phillips last made The Hangover. Once upon a time, he also made 2003's highly entertaining Old School and before that 2000's raunchy but really funny Road Trip. You might look at those movies and say the guy's on a hell of a winning streak. Have a look his IMDB page, however, and note that inbetween all those movies he also made some serious clunkers: That god-awful Starsky & Hutch movie with Ben Still and Owen Wilson, School For Scoundrels with Billy Bob Thorton and the guy who played Napoleon Dynamite, and now this one.

Of course, we are talking about three really funny comedies mixed in with three not so good ones here, but the hit-and-miss ratio is great enough that the casual film goer should be cautious whenever the words "from the director of "The Hangover" are used to advertise a picture in the future.

Check out my entry on The Hangover, and my entry on last month's It's Kind Of A Funny Story.

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