Due Date is a hellacious highway nightmare, featuring equal parts horror and comedy. The film pits two extremely different personalities against each another on a long road trip, and the results are marginally funny—and frequently monstrous.
After seeing Robert Downey Jr. and Zach Galifianakis go at it in this evil bastard cousin to Planes, Trains and Automobiles, I am left thinking that the two actors must've truly hated each other at some point. They are far too good at giving each other the worst of times, and they beat each other up in a very convincing way.
Peter Highman (Downey) has a baby on the way, and he needs to get home to his wife (Michelle Monaghan) in Los Angeles, pronto. A series of mishaps, courtesy of the offensive Ethan Tremblay (Galifianakis)—an actor wannabe with a perm and a Lilith Fair T-shirt—gets Peter placed on the no-fly list, stranded in Atlanta with no luggage, no wallet and virtually no hope.
Along comes Ethan in a Subaru Impreza, with his French bulldog and his father's ashes in tow. He offers a ride; Peter begrudgingly accepts ... and the nightmare begins.
Todd Phillips, director of last year's money sponge The Hangover, is at the helm, and this isn't another guffaw-fest by any means. This is a pitch black, supremely uncomfortable comedy. It has many laughs, but those laughs are often accompanied by feelings of guilt for laughing at such terrible, horrible things.
Take, for instance, a scene in which Peter is forced to baby-sit a drug dealer's demon spawn while Ethan scores some weed. Peter proves to be perhaps the worst baby sitter in cinematic history, resorting to extreme measures when words don't do the trick. I give Downey a lot of credit for pulling off this scene.
Peter is one of the more unpleasant characters to appear on a movie screen this year. He seems to be suffering from some sort of mental-emotional condition that causes massive mood swings, violent behavior and lethal streaks of vicious sarcasm. Peter is so nasty that he makes Ethan the most likable member of this odd couple. That's quite an accomplishment, considering that Ethan likes to masturbate in car sleepovers with Peter mere feet away, spends all of their road money on pot, and falls asleep at the wheel.
As he did in the recent It's Kind of a Funny Story, Galifianakis shows he has some dramatic chops to go with his ability to induce constant laughter. He has a couple of moments that are shockingly good; he could have some straight-up dramatic roles in his future.
As The Hangover did, the film features some celebrity cameos. Juliette Lewis stops by as a drug dealer with a whiny voice, while Jamie Foxx has a memorable moment as Peter's friend and the maker of really bad coffee. The best cameo comes from the ever-reliable Danny McBride as a Western Union employee who wants to close his shop early, because he has reservations at Chili's. His physical confrontation with Peter is one of the film's highlights. As he often does in his films, Phillips shows up for a couple of minutes, this time smoking pot while wearing a bathrobe.
Monaghan, a very gifted actress, is given almost nothing to do as Peter's frustrated wife. We see her talking on the phone a lot, and there's the obligatory birthing scene, but that's about it.
In the end, Due Date is neither as funny nor as good as The Hangover, but it has its own sort of demented appeal. While I generally don't like telling people to lower their expectations before going to a movie, that needs to be done here: If you know what you are getting into, you might be moderately entertained.
The more I think about it, the more I believe the screenwriters, including Phillips, should've given a credit, or at least a thank you, to John Hughes, writer and director of Planes, Trains and Automobiles. Downey and Galifianakis are basically playing dirtier, amped-up versions of Steve Martin and John Candy's characters in that film, and entire sequences—including the moment involving falling asleep at the wheel—are lifted. The story's conclusion also owes much to Planes.
While this film will enjoy some box-office success, I'm thinking a sequel is not in the offing—unless that sequel involves Peter and Ethan going on a killing spree. That's about the only horrible thing they have left to do after this amusing yet slightly off-putting venture.