by Roxana Hadadi
Robert Downey Jr. is at his best when he’s furious, and Zach Galifianakis excels at acting like a walking disaster. When Downey clenches his jaw or Galifianakis exasperatedly leans on one hip, you know you’re going to get something good. It’s the rest of “Due Date,” though, that fails to make director Todd Phillips’ comedy as good as his last one, “The Hangover.”
To be fair, “The Hangover” is a lot to live up to. The R-rated comedy made oodles of money and excelled at absurdity, introducing mainstream audiences to Galifianakis – who now seems like Hollywood’s go-to weird guy – and making Mike Tyson cool again. Its main characters’ hijinks across Las Vegas, marrying strippers and pulling out teeth and bamboozling cops, kept upping the ante while staying somewhat believable. Tyson could have a tiger. A dentist could drunkenly pull out his own tooth. A Chinese gangster could go on a rampage with a tire iron. Right?
But with the similarly R-rated “Due Date,” Phillips can’t balance the hilarity with the reality in the same way. He wants us to care about Peter (Downey) and Ethan (Galifianakis) and their inevitable friendship, but there’s little character development to make the two more than “the angry guy” and “the one with the perm.” So while the film has undeniably funny moments – and, much like “The Hangover,” leads up to a final frantic car-ride home – it just doesn’t click for viewers in the same way. Well, there’s always “The Hangover II” to hope for.
“Due Date” starts off with Peter, a snazzily dressed architect who can’t stop calling his very pregnant Sarah (Michelle Monaghan). On his way back to Los Angeles from Atlanta, Peter – who struggles with anger management issues – is desperate to get home for Sarah’s planned C-section so they can start their lives as a family. But from the moment aspiring actor Ethan crashes into his life – literally – at the airport, there’s no escaping him. First Ethan accidentally switches their luggage, saddling Peter with drug paraphernalia that gets him in an angry exchange with a profanity-heavy airport employee (played by the hilarious rapper RZA). Then when they’re on the plane, Ethan thrusts his acid-jean-washed crotch into Peter’s face as he tries to fit his carry-on bag above their heads. And finally, with the two little words “terrorist” and “bomb,” Ethan confuses the federal air marshal into thinking Peter has something planned for the plane, getting him shot by a rubber bullet and landing them both on the no-fly list.
So with no way to fly to LAX and with his wallet, photo ID and money left on the plane, Peter is forced to team up with Ethan to drive cross-country. Peter needs to see his wife. Ethan, a huge “Two and a Half Men” fan, wants to make it big in Hollywood. And with the two forced to cohabitate in a small car together for the next few days, you can guess what’s going to happen: chaos, whether it’s because Ethan makes a stop to buy pot and thrusts Peter into an awful babysitting situation; Ethan falls asleep at the wheel and causes their car to careen off an overpass, seriously injuring Peter; or Ethan gets high and accidentally drives them into Mexico, thinking the border sign said Texaco instead. It’s a series of horrible situations, and Peter just can’t shake the guy loose. But while he’s bloody and bruised, Peter has no other options – and because “Due Date” has a conscience, the two have to learn to stand each other.
It’s not that the film’s sensitive moments are awful (in fact, Galifianakis shows the same kind of acting range he did in September’s “It’s Kind of a Funny Story” when his character here needs actual emotions), but just that they’re overshadowed by less funny grasps at laughs, like Ethan’s masturbating dog Sonny and a high-speed escape that certainly would have been an international incident. It’s certain, though, that Downey and Galifianakis give it to their best effort: Though we only get a hint of why Peter is such an angry person, Downey is fantastic as the guy about to snap, and Galifianakis – with his Lilith Fair T-shirt and tie-dye scarf and propensity for accidents – does everything he can to get him right on the edge. And the film’s final scene, homage to Ethan’s favorite show on TV, is one of the comedy’s most surreal and successful bits.
“Due Date” is rated R and involves cursing, drug use, sexual activity, a kid getting punched, vomit, a gunshot wound and some women in labor. Teenagers should be able to handle it, but tweens probably wouldn’t. And despite its really funny moments, as a whole, everyone should probably wait for the DVD instead.