Due Date is an audacious new comedy that's all heart.
Director: Todd Phillips.
Starring: Robert Downey Jr, Jamie Foxx, Zach Galifianakis
It could've been such a lazy payday for Todd Phillips, white-hot writer-director of last year's $462 million-grossing (Dh1.7billion) comedy smash, The Hangover. With a grateful Hollywood studio (Warner Bros) at his feet, and the cream of Tinseltown talent lining up before him, all he had to do was rehash another pacey frat-boy comedy, call it The Hangover 2, and watch the cash come flooding in. And while he is indeed at work on that (due out sometime in 2011), he's not content to simply wait for the sequel. In between, he has teamed star du jour Robert Downey Jr with Hangover hero Zach Galifianakis, and pitched them together in a road movie about two mismatched travelling companions taking a chaotic trip from Atlanta to LA, that could make The Hangover 2 pale in comparison.
But it is worth comparing Due Date to The Hangover (the first), if only to point out what it's not. Where its predecessor was hilariously crude, Due Date is thoughtfully witty (and with, well, a dash of crude). Where The Hangover was ramshackle on the story front, Due Date has narrative focus. And where The Hangover was all face, Due Date is all heart. It is, in short, a better, funnier, more satisfying film on every conceivable level.
The plot, of course, is quietly derivative, and mostly reminiscent of the Robert DeNiro-Charles Grodin vehicle Midnight Run. In this case, however, Downey Jr's straight man is not a bounty hunter, but an uptight architect called Peter Highman who is prone to bursts of rage and nurses an arrogant self-regard that is typical of an audacious movie that refuses to play it safe and positively tests the audience's ability to empathise with its leading A-lister. Into Highman's life crashes an eccentric man-child and wannabe actor called Ethan Tremblay (Galifianakis). The latter is a delicious screen creation, a combination of idiot one-liners ("Dad, you were like a father to me!") a demented self-confidence that drives his Hollywood ambitions and his self-confessed devotion to the middle-of-the-road TV series, Two and a Half Men (he runs a website called It'sRainingTwoandaHalfMen.com).
Naturally, Highman loathes Tremblay at first sight, but due to a water-tight plot contrivance in the first act the pair must make the two-day trip to LA together, to reach Highman's beloved wife Sarah (Michelle Monaghan) in time for the birth of their first child. Which, in Phillips-speak, translates as an excuse to stage a series of comedy set-pieces that include Juliette Lewis's barmy marijuana dealer, Jamie Foxx's millionaire football player, a reckless freeway chase and an impromptu funeral in the Grand Canyon.
The real surprise in all this, ultimately, is not the gags but the character work. Downey Jr, Galifianakis and Phillips have created two truly memorable protagonists here, each with delicate back-stories, profound weaknesses and resilient human spirits. It's their quiet scenes together - Tremblay weeping before Highman in a public toilet, or the difficult look the two men share at their final farewell - that will stay with you long after the giggles have faded.