“What are you, a girl or something?”
In a coincidental stroke of fate, following my own cross country trip from Buffalo to Denver amidst a constant barrage of quotes from Planes, Trains & Automobiles on behalf of my co-pilot cousin, I arrived back home on the east coast in time for a screening of Todd Phillips’s follow-up to The Hangover, Due Date. Trying its best to recreate the magic of Steve Martin and John Candy’s memorable Thanksgiving jaunt, this new film pits a father-to-be against the clock and the mileage to make it from Atlanta to Los Angeles for the birth of his baby boy. It should be an easy town car drive to the airport and a few hours long flight west, but when Peter Highman (Robert Downey Jr.) literally gets run into by Ethan Tremblay (Zach Galifianakis), one catches on pretty quick that there will be nothing easy about anything. Once ‘terrorist’ and ‘bomb’ are uttered upon a plane, identification and credit cards are lost as they fly to Kansas without their owner, and a clambake leads the duo to the Mexican border with pot and Vicodin in possession, all hell breaks loose and, for the most part, laughs ensue.
It’s a mighty task to try and recreate the genius that is the 1987 road trip classic, but I applaud the filmmakers here for their attempt and the enjoyment from the effort. Downey Jr.’s sarcastic delivery, impeccable comedic timing, and facial expressions are a fantastic update to Martin’s straight-laced, buttoned-down advertising executive. An architect with money to burn, he spends his mornings on Bluetooth, leaving messages with his pregnant wife, (his former Kiss Kiss Bang Bang flame Michelle Monaghan), about dreams of grizzly bears biting her umbilical cord or reasons why not to tag their child with a unisex name, doing all he can to check his anger and keep the red, ever-boiling to consume him, at bay. A snake-like tongue and insuppressible temper is the fire to Galifianakis’s water that keeps evaporating in silent moments of sad anger and always comes back in a flood of inappropriate gestures, imbecilic questions, and excruciatingly annoying actions—a naïve country-bumpkin heading to Hollywood to pursue an acting career. In other words, Zach once more plays the role he was born to portray: himself. John Candy he is not, but while this obnoxious character overstays its welcome often, it often finds redemption without fail.
The physical comedy is big, just like any Phillips work. A collective screenwriting team adds some quick witted verbiage—or perhaps some of that can be attributed to the leads and their penchant for going off-script—but the situations they have concocted for this odd couple are what’s showcased. Between a handi-capable ex-Army man kicking butt with a baton, a drug dealer’s very young son getting a swift fist in the gut, and errant bullets, both plastic and real, firing through the air, the blood-caked visage opposite the grinning idiot devoid of even a scratch shows where the violence generally lands. Danny McBride, Jamie Foxx, Juliette Lewis, Matt Walsh, RZA, and the director himself all find their way on screen for quick, yet integral, eccentrics along the journey. Each role plays a key part towards the sometimes forgiving and always volatile relationship between Highman and Tremblay, giving fodder for verbal assault, bursts of physical abuse, or the odd moments of emotional clarity as the film attempts to shed some humanity on the nonsense before awkward laughter or insensitive reactions bring it all back to its crazy reality.
I could go into detail with some of the gags or the surprises that occur during the course of the film, but all that stuff deserves to be seen naturally and without spoilers. Due Date is a comedy that works because of the insane directions it goes and knowing the details only lessens the effect. Does this mean it doesn’t necessarily have replay value? I’m not quite sure I would have any desire to see it again, but I will say that it is much funnier than I could have expected. Any fears from the trailers of Galifianakis going too far into the territory of jokes so dry they suck any laughter that might have occurred from existence will unfortunately be realized. Phillips utilized his talent to perfection in The Hangover, both giving us one of the better comedic performances in quite some time and also vaulting him into the spotlight with starring roles that over-saturate his schtick. Much like Will Ferrell, Zach is at his best when the manic off-kilter personality is held in check, whether in a supporting role (The Hangover) or a more subdued turn (It’s Kind of a Funny Story). Downey Jr.’s great rage-filled straightman does his best to rein in the wildcard nature of the beast, but sometimes he breaks free on rampages of awkward silences and impromptu masturbation—figuratively and literally.
Due Date 6/10 | ★ ★ ½
 (L-R) ROBERT DOWNEY JR. as Peter Highman and ZACH GALIFIANAKIS as Ethan Tremblay in Warner Bros. Pictures’ and Legendary Pictures’ comedy “DUE DATE,” a Warner Bros. Pictures release. Photo by Melinda Sue Gordon
 MICHELLE MONAGHAN as Sarah Highman in Warner Bros. Pictures’ and Legendary Pictures’ comedy “DUE DATE,” a Warner Bros. Pictures release. Photo courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures
 Robert Downey Jr. stars as Peter Highman and Jamie Foxx stars as Darryl in Warner Bros. Pictures’ Due Date (2010)