It’s impossible to write a full review of Due Date without mentioning Planes, Trains, And Automobiles, so I’ll just address it up front: It’s essentially the same movie. I’d argue that there are moments where Due Date even openly acknowledges its debt to the earlier movie. Whether or not you appreciate Due Date has to do entirely with how you feel about the elements of the update.
Planes, Trains, And Automobiles is one of the underrated jewels of the John Hughes canon, probably because the writer-director is so closely identified with movies about teenagers. Planes, Trains, And Automobiles is ultimately a pretty adult movie, with some finely-played observations about loneliness scattered in amongst the comedy, featuring some of the better film work by two great comedians at the height of their powers. In my personal opinion, you can’t improve on Steve Martin and John Candy. What you can do is get two guys who are pretty gargantuan talents in their own right, and hope that the chemistry works.
I think it does. Due Date is as simple a set-up as it gets: Uptight businessman Peter Highman (say it out loud) is boarding a plane to get home to LA in time to see his wife (Downey’s Kiss Kiss Bang Bang costar Michelle Monaghan) give birth to their first child, but a chance encounter with aspiring actor Ethan Tremblay (Zach Galifianakis) results in them both getting thrown off the plane and forced to drive cross-country together. You know how the rest goes, even though of course, you don’t exactly.
I love Zach Galifianakis – I’d like to be on record as stating that I think that having him sitting square in the mainstream, as he is right now, is something that is good for the world. I love Galifianakis as a best-kept-secret, and have for some time now (along with many other comedy fans), but I also think that the mainstream needs guys like him right now. I don’t even have to explain it: All you have to do is look at the kind of trailers that are playing in front of Due Date to see why such an unusual, intelligent, and genuinely anarchic comedic presence is so necessary. When I mention “anarchy” in conjunction with Zach Galifianakis, I mean to say that there’s an unpredictability there – it’s genuinely difficult to reckon what he’s going to do next. But there’s also a sense of innocence to his comedic acts of anarchy that is really uncommon. When Ethan announces his dream of appearing on Two And A Half Men, of course the movie is making fun of Two And A Half Men, but Galifianakis plays it with such conviction and enthusiasm that the makers of Two And A Half Men couldn’t help but sign off on allowing clips to be used.
Meanwhile, Robert Downey Jr. is such a precise actor that he turns out to be a perfect foil to Galifianakis. Downey is a guy who we all know is capable of great manic energy in his own right, but here he’s downplaying to serve as the straight man, and it works perfectly. You figure he’s going to snap, but you don’t know when or how, so when it does happen (as it does many different times in many different ways over the course of the movie), it’s delightful even when it’s awful. He does some meeeeeeean stuff in this movie. Still, because Downey is so likable and so understandably beleaguered, it’s perfectly balanced.
An extended cameo with Jamie Foxxx (why not use all three x’s?) also works surprisingly well, since Foxxx, with his popular persona stuffed with flashy overconfidence, is a different kind of counterbalance to the far less polished Galifianakis charm. Danny McBride also comes in for a cameo, but he’s such an anarchic presence in his own brilliant style that Zach literally steps out of frame in that scene to take a break and let someone else pinch-hit.
This is smart stuff, good comedy directing. Todd Phillips is a guy who understands how to cast comedies – clearly he knows how to cast ensembles, and now he also shows that he knows how to cast odd-couple pairings. I like Todd Phillips movies. For one thing, he makes movies that look like movies. For another, he’s good at harnessing the anarchy: He’s obviously a guy who is fond of boundary-pushing, but he seems to know how to walk that line enough so that, even when they do things that law-abiding citizens must never do, his characters are never too unlikable, or at least, not so much that they can’t pull off the inevitably saccharine moments that movies like this are required to end on.
I like this movie better than The Hangover. There’s no use of the F-word (and in fact there’s no apparent evidence to counter the vague notion that Ethan might be gay). There’s no weak link in the cast. I liked The Hangover, but I like Due Date better. There’s not much left to say about it, except maybe for this:
At my screening, I had a row to myself for the first ten minutes of the movie. Then a fat man shuffled up and sat down two seats from me. He pulled out two large bottles of soda, a bag of Sour Patch Kids, and the crinkliest bag of Reese’s Peanut Butter Product imaginable. He began to eat loudly. Then, a female voice rang out in the darkness: “Dad. Dad!” The man responded, eventually: “Here. HERE!” His young daughter, no slip of a thing herself, sat next to him. They proceeded to pull a lobotomized director’s commentary through the whole thing. “He’s stupid!” “There’s a dog!” “They’re from Georgia.” [This was in reference to a car on screen with Virginia plates.] I looked around the theater: Was I the only one being distracted by this? I noticed a woman behind us who couldn’t have been an ounce less than three hundred pounds, scarfing cheese-coated nachos as if there were a shortage. As if on cue, the woman belched loudly.
You’re going to ask: Why didn’t I say anything? Believe me, I have a long history of “saying something.” It always leads to further loudness and I was there to laugh, not fight. You may also ask: Why not move? Well for one thing, there weren’t a lot of options, and I didn’t want to end up next to Nachos Lady. For another, I thought it would be more interesting to stay. At the risk of sounding patronizing (because I’m obviously the dick here anyway), this whole experience was in a way what the movie is about. We uptight sarcastic smartasses need to find a way to peacefully co-exist with sloppy, obnoxious, sometimes super-sized people. The movie specifically feels, under those viewing conditions, to be a journey towards compromise.
For my part, I just sat back and realized that we were watching a comedy, we were all there to laugh, and we were all laughing. (Luckily the movie was funny.) I don’t go to a comedy to sit quietly with my arms folded anyway, so why not lighten up? Now, the people who jabbered away during Hereafter got some ice-cold Eastwood glare out of me, but at a comedy, I’ll be a teddy bear. Just make sure to share some of those Reese’s and there’ll always hope for humanity.