Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Due Date

I guess director Todd Phillips was due to make another weak comedy, to get it out of his system before making The Hangover 2. This is a bit of an inconsistent mess, occasionally brilliant, but more frequently boring or just plain irritating, and unfortunately by it’s very nature one is forced to spend the entirety of the film thinking of Planes, Trains, and Automobiles, which it’s not even in the same league as.

See if you’ve heard this before. An uptight businessman (Robert Downey Jr.) is trying to fly home to his family for an important event, but is stymied in his efforts, and reduced to getting a ride with an overly sociable chubby fellow (Zach Galifianakis). The two then have a series of wacky misadventures together traveling across the country in a variety of vehicles, as Mr. Uptight grows to truly hate his companion before eventually deciding that he may in fact not be quite so bad after all. Sounds like the most original plot in the world, right?

But of course the overall originality of the plot doesn’t matter so much as how effectively done it was, and it’s really not that effective here. There are some big laughs -- I’m sure I laughed much more than is really healthy when Downey dealt with a misbehaving child by punching him in the gut and threatening to beat him further if he told anyone -- but overall it seems like Phillips was more interested in being mean-spirited and uncomfortable than funny, and the film suffers for it.

Take, for example, the character of Darryl (Jamie Foxx). A friend of Downey’s, he arrives in his car to rescue both of them after yet another ugly mishap, and when they reach his house Galifianakis immediately starts suggesting to Downey that Foxx is sleeping with Downey’s wife. Naturally Downey believes him and fires off a terse voice mail to his wife asking if he’s going to be dealing with a surprise when the baby is delivered, and that’s pretty much it. The next time it’s brought up, it’s when he’s hastily apologizing to his wife for being a headcase. There’s no real drive to it whatsoever, it’s just uncomfortableness for the sheer sake of uncomfortableness. And pretty half-hearted uncomfortableness, at that -- Danny DeVito would have made this material much nastier and funnier.

I think that’s really a large part of the problem. Comedies need to be really tightly wound in order to work: you don’t really need to look any further than the aforementioned Planes, Trains, and Automobiles for a perfect example. Due Date is simply too laid back and aloof, setting up several situations without giving them any proper follow-through. The only ones that are permitted to truly escalate are scenes involving lots of vehicular destruction, as if Phillips had just gotten done watching The Blues Brothers before storyboarding.

Phillips just got done making one of the best comedies in recent years with The Hangover before this, and with The Hangover 2 currently in post-production, I can only hope that he felt that he needed to get all of his bad ideas out of the way before doing his big money film. As for this one, you can definitely give it a pass. I’d say it was past it’s due date, but the very thought of saying such a thing makes my testicles want to shrivel up.

Rating: * ½

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