When it comes to mismatched pair comedies two things are vital: good chemistry between its leads and a story that takes advantage of it. It’s a lot like a romantic comedy in a way; there’s a certain amount of cliché and generic plot points that are to be expected, but a good story and characters will overcome what has to be there. Unfortunately for Due Date it has a cast that works well together but isn’t given much to work with.
Straight-laced Peter (Robert Downey Jr.) is an architect waiting on the birth of his first child back home in California. Imbecile Ethan (Zach Galifianakis) is a wannabe actor flying out to Los Angeles with his dog. Fate (or, more accurately, Ethan’s self-absorbed and unconscionable behavior) conspires to get the two thrown off the same plane and on the “No Fly” list, and Peter’s wallet to go missing, the two pair up for a cross-country trip in a rental car to make it back in time for the birth of Peter’s child.
The two mix like gasoline and water throughout the trip, which focuses on one main concept: Ethan’s continual ability to irritate Peter and Peter’s reactions to it. The film, which sets up every gag in bland and innocuous ways, works mainly because Downey and Galifianakis work excessively well together throughout the film. It carries an otherwise awful film into perhaps forgettable territory.
Considering that it was rumored the two feuded on the set during the making of the film, never confirmed by either party, the two have a terrific chemistry with one another. Galifianakis is essentially playing the same role he did in The Hangover as the clueless man child, so it isn’t a stretch for him to do any of the things he does, but the key to the film relies on perhaps the best working actor in the industry today: Downey. Given the tougher role, that of the straight man, he doesn’t just let Galifianakis merely irritate him. Peter is significantly anally-retentive and seemingly one blowup away from a stroke. Ethan knows he has an ability to irritate others on a significant level but doesn’t do anything about it; this level of indifference brings the absolute worst out of Peter and when he does lose his marbles the results are comedy gold. Peter isn’t above punching a young child or spitting in the face of nearly anyone or anything, making his reactions all the more priceless.
Downey isn’t all bile and rants. There are a number of deep, dramatic moments where he brings out Peter’s humanity. We can see how he became the man he is; in particular there’s a moment when he’s discussing how he hasn’t seen his father since he was a young child and the exact moment of departure. It’s painful and deep without being overly melodramatic. There’s a quiet intensity to it that is almost breath-taking in an R-rated comedy. Galifianakis’ response is both remarkably insensitive and surprisingly funny. As the friendship develops both men end up letting their guard down and have true bonding moments that are surprising in their depth. Galifianakis keeps up with Downey but is outclassed consistently; it’s not for lack of effort but for Downey’s ability to rise to the occasion.
The problem is that there isn’t much there for the two to work with. The film’s entire comedy lineup isn’t clever nor is it cleverly disguised. Throughout the film the film’s attempts at signature comedic “moments” gets in the way of the story as opposed to enhancing it; we want to see the two interacting, which is the source of most of the comedy, as opposed to them getting into wacky situations for comedic situations. They become more perfunctory than anything else. It’s a bit of a shame because Due Date has nearly everything else going for it to be a terrific comedy. It just never gets close to it.
Director: Todd Phillips Notable Cast: Zach Galifianakis, Jamie Foxx, Michelle Monaghan, Juliette Lewis, RZA, Danny McBride, Robert Downey Jr. Writer(s): Alan R Cohen, Alan Freedland, Adam Sztykiel and Todd Phillips based off a story by Cohen & Freedland
Scott Sawitz is an Inside Pulse original. He's also been featured on The Ultimate Fighter.com, Fox Sports.com, Nerdcore Movement.com, CagePotato.com, Inside Fights.com and Film Arcade.net (among others). When Scott isn't writing about film he's making his own. Check out Drunk Justice Productions right here.