Friday, November 5, 2010

Due Date Film Review

Last year, director Todd Phillips took comedy to new heights of hilarity with "The Hangover." Now, re-teaming with its breakout star Zach Galifinakis and superstar Robert Downey Jr., Phillips brings us "Due Date," his darkest, and most surprisingly heartfelt comedy yet.

A week before his wife Sarah (Michelle Monaghan) is due to give birth to their first child, L.A. architect Peter Highman (Downey) has an encounter with aspiring actor and ultimate aloof Ethan Tamblay (Galifinakis) which causes both to end up on the "no fly list" in Atlanta and grounded thousands of miles away from their destination in Los Angeles. With limited options, the two embark on a cross-country road trip together that redefines the word "disaster" for the both of them.

Taking a cue from 80's John Hughes classic Planes, Trains, and Automobiles and thrusting it into the raunchy comedy mold of the 21st century, Due Date creates a journey that mixes outrageous, often shocking humor with heart and a dark sense of tension that keeps the audience anticipating and hoping for a happy resolution for the mismatched pair of Peter and Ethan. While the story of Due Date won't surprise anyone who's ever seen a road trip movie, the caliber of the two lead actors and their lack of chemistry (yes, lack of chemistry) make for a bizarre, funny and wild journey.

Downey has become notorious in recent years for playing the cocky, charismatic jerk. Here, he is thrust in as a middleman in crisis, one who doesn't go out of his way to cause trouble, and often has difficulty handling it when it comes his. It's a nice change for Downey, as his boiling build up of rage against Ethan comes across as completely understandable and believable. He's dealing with a child in Ethan, ultimately preparing him for the journey of fatherhood he is about to embark on with his wife back home.

Zach Galifinakis's Ethan is a character that is one slight step above what he played in The Hangover, but with a little bit more of a soul. An aspiring actor who carries his dead father's ashes around with him in a coffee can, he's painfully and obnoxiously oblivious to his actions, whether it's getting Peter stranded with the Mexican Border patrol or dealing with his pet dog's nightly imitation of his master before bedtime (just wait for that one). And Galifinakis plays it like only he can. But it's in those smaller, touching scenes of bonding between the two road companions that he really shines. There's more to this stand-up turned actor than meets the eye, and although he'll go back to the well again with the sequel to Hangover next year, it would not be a surprise to see him turn up in more dramatic roles in the coming years.

There are also some truly stand out minor roles in the film from Danny McBride as a bank clerk (another one of the films best scenes where the less said, the better) and Juliette Lewis as a pot dealer. Not so much can be said of Jamie Foxx (usually a fantastic comic actor), as one of Peter's best friends who tries to help at one point. Foxx phones in the role and is barely a factor as his character turns out to be nothing more than a minor cameo, as he's not present at all in the second half of the film.

If there are flaws to be had in Due Date, it's that it never really feels like a completely cohesive movie. The jokes, while often hilarious, are grouped together in moments of spontaneity rather than being consistent like in many others. As the situation for Peter gets grimmer and grimmer, the laughs do come back, but there are often times where the audience will feel more tense than anything else. It gets uncomfortable at times, but the character's natural reactions to the situations keep the film grounded, and make for an ultimately satisfying and funny, but not mind-blowing film. Due Date is a film about parenting, and as any mother and father can tell you, it is not without it's ups and downs.

3 out of 5.

Written by Jeff Butler