After a promising start, Todd Phillips's Due Date becomes a one-gag movie that not even Robert Downey Jr's charisma can save.
Director: Todd Phillips
Starring: Robert Downey Jr, Zach Galifianakis, Michelle Monaghan, Juliette Lewis and Jamie Foxx
How does a filmmaker follow a comedy smash about an all-male road trip that goes awry?
For The Hangover director, Todd Philips, the answer is by making Due Date, another film about guys whose adventures don’t go according to plan.
However, this time the characters have changed from being frat-buddies to an odd couple and the transportation upgraded to include more cars, a plane and a portable office.
Phillips has also used his new-found Hollywood muscle to get two quality performers, but while the film has its moments the trip this time around is stale.
The film opens in Atlanta with architect Peter Highman (Robert Downey Jr) on his way to to Los Angeles for the birth of his first child.
At the airport he runs into aspiring actor Ethan Tremblay (Zach Galifianakis), a walking tornado whose sheer obnoxiousness disguises some deep-seated abandonment issues.
Unfortunately for Peter, he mistakes his luggage for Ethan’s and his life unravels from that point. First, he is stopped by officials as the suitcase contains suspect items. Then an altercation with Ethan on the plane earns each of them a place on the no-fly list.
With his wallet missing and baby on the way Peter finds himself with no choice but to join Ethan on a 2,000-mile cross-country road-trip to LA.
Due Date sets itself up promisingly. The gags come thick and fast in the first half-hour and the film wastes no time in getting the protagonists on the road together.
Once there, however, things begins to slow down, almost as though the four scriptwriters could not get any more juice out of the two characters other than by repeatedly stating how mismatched they are, a predictable route that means the movie has to rely on cheap thrills alone.
This is a shame as the potential is certainly there, and Due Date really should have made better use of its leading men. You can just imagine Downey and Galifianakis tearing into Peter and Ethan’s back stories of how both were abandoned by their fathers, the former through neglect and the latter through sudden death.
This might have lessened the laugh count, but the gain would have been the audience attachment necessary to make the characters’ journey resonate.
To be fair, Phillips tentatively attempts to tease out these themes in a handful of scenes, but they are quickly shut down with either a bodily projectile or the next sequence of spectacular car crashes.
Downey fans will be disappointed with his turn in Due Date. He is one of the few actors who genuinely possesses both effortless charisma and acting chops, but here he fails to deliver the comic verve that made his role in Tropic Thunder such a hoot.
Instead, and in no small part thanks to the plodding script, we frequently have him looking bored, tight-lipped and exploding in predictable fits of rage.
Galifianakis’s performance is basically a supersized reprise of his breakout role in The Hangover. Phillips should have realised he was an inspired choice there because he provided the ensemble cast with an exhilarating spark of unpredictability.
But by promoting him to a co-starring role without the character to back it up, Phillips strips Galifianakis of his live-wire appeal and his flailing performance irritates rather than entertains.
As he did in The Hangover, the director sprinkles the film with offbeat minor characters, including a violent, wheelchair-bound army veteran, overzealous Mexican border-guards and an amusing cameo by Jamie Foxx as Peter’s best friend.
The biggest scene stealer however is Juliette Lewis as Heidi, a friend of Ethan. The scene where Ethan shows her his Don Corleone imitation from The Godfather is memorable.
Due Date will go down as another passable entry in the buddy movie/road trip canon. Downey and Galifianakis’s adventure does produce some laughs but the overall result is pedestrian.
Ten more 'buddy' movies
It is a classic formula that can be found at the heart of a whole range of films. Here are some from right across the spectrum.
The Odd Couple (1968)
A benchmark for the buddy movie. Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau are best friends Felix and Oscar. But their relationship is tested to the limit once they become roommates. Lemmon and Matthau teamed up again in the 1990s for Grumpy Old Men and its sequel Grumpier Old Men.
Silver Streak (1976)
A daft book editor teams up with a petty thief against a master forger. The slapstick comedy is the first of four celebrated films pairing Richard Pryor with Gene Wilder.
48 Hours (1982)
Widely credited with rejuvenating the buddy film, this action comedy teams hard-as-nails cop Jack Cates (Nick Nolte) with prisoner Reggie Hammond (Eddie Murphy) and gives them two days to catch a gang of armed robbers.
Lethal Weapon (1987)
The buddy film meets the thriller. Mel Gibson and Danny Glover bond over bullets and explosions as these two world-weary policemen break up a drugs syndicate.
Midnight Run (1988)
Robert De Niro is at his dry-witted best as the bounty hunter Jack Walsh, who must deliver the mafia accountant Jonathan “the Duke” Mardukas, to Los Angeles. However both the mob and the police have other plans.
Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure (1989)
Keanu Reeves and Alex Winter are two teenage slackers who travel back in time to save the future and finish up their high-school history assignment. The film spawned the 1991 sequel Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey.
Thelma and Louise (1991)
Who said buddy films were only for the guys? Geena Davis and Susan Sarandon play best friends heading to Mexico with the police in hot pursuit.
Stop or My Mom Will Shoot (1992)
Proving that age is no barrier (to terrible reviews), the late Estelle Getty (69 at the time) joins Sylvester Stallone as a crime-fighting mother and son duo who foil a group of arms dealers.
Dumb and Dumber (1994)
The film that launched the Farrelly brothers’ careers stars Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels as Harry and Lloyd, two accident-prone friends who set off on a snowy journey to the Colorado ski resort of Aspen to reunite a suitcase with its owner.
The King’s Speech (2010)
This year’s Oscar winner for Best Film may be a regal tale but at heart it is a good old-fashioned tale of male bonding. Speech therapist Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush) is enlisted to help King George VI (Colin Firth) to overcome his stutter.
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