Sometimes when I get déjà vu at the movies, I’m okay with it. I’ve previously made it clear that I’m often not bothered by the conventionality of romantic comedies or thrillers if they’re still entertaining, or are creative in other ways. Other times, however, at the end of a movie I just want those two hours of my life back. Due Date, starring Robert Downey Jr and Zach Galifianakis, is pretty much like any other odd-couple-forced-to-travel-together movie, but it’s no Tommy Boy.
In Due Date, Peter Highman (Downey Jr) is on his way home to L.A. from Atlanta when the antics of stranger Ethan Tremblay (Galifianakis) land him on a no-fly list and, because he also doesn’t have his wallet, with no way to get home. His wife Sarah (Michelle Monaghan) is due to deliver their first child in a matter of days, so Peter is just frantic enough to accept a ride cross-country with Ethan and his pug Sonny. Naturally, the trip is a disaster due to clashing personalities, false identities, drugs, fights, border patrol, and other myriad mishaps. Along the way, Peter and Ethan also meet a drug dealer, Heidi (Juliette Lewis), a very angry veteran (Danny McBride), and visit Peter’s old friend Darryl (Jamie Foxx).
All of the characters feel like lifeless prototypes out of the screenwriting playbook. Ethan is a mashup of the standards for the lunatic making life hard for the straight man. He’s chubby, messy, loud, has an annoying pet, takes himself too seriously, is accident prone, and yet has a softer side that is supposed to be endearing enough that we aren’t supposed to want Peter to ditch him. Nothing Ethan did was unexpected or original. Peter’s wife Sarah is little more than a device to move the plot forward and his friend Darryl is so dull it’s easy to forget he was ever in the story, except that he stirs up some conflict for about a half an hour after his appearance. Even Peter, who is the most fully, realistically developed of any of the characters, is pretty static. Supposedly he’s working on his anger issues and on being a better person, but it isn’t a believable element of the character. He doesn’t develop; he is just prescribed Vicodin. The Airport Screener, played by RZA, from the beginning of the movie, is maybe an exception as his dialogue with Peter is sort of cheeky in the way it consciously avoids the expected. But even that felt a little forced and was just a bit at the opening of the movie.
Plotwise, the screenplay isn’t genius, but it’s really not terrible either. The main problem is that so many subplots that could have been interesting are begun only to be dropped before they reach their potential. Whatever happens to Darryl? He was supposed to show up in L.A., but we never see him after Texas. Does Peter take Sarah’s fidelity at her word? Does the issue really never come up again? What is the relationship between Ethan and Peter like after they leave the hospital? I’m just confused by the little epilogue we’re given. Probably the most interesting part of the entire script, to me, was Peter’s dream about the delivery, which starts the movie and then is referred to in the end, after I had pretty much forgotten about it. The bookending of the story with the dream, in a way I didn’t quite expect, was a nice touch. It would have been even better if there was a glimmer of that level of creativity anywhere else in the movie.
I’ve watched far stupider for the love of Robert Downey Jr (The Pick-Up Artist, anyone?), but this movie just left me wondering why so many talented people signed on and what exactly made the project fall so flat. 2/5 stars
Due Date was written by Alan R. Cohen, Alan Freedland, Adam Sztykiel (this many writers for this script, seriously?) and directed by Todd Phillips. It runs 100 minutes and is rated R for language, drug use and sexual content.
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