‘Due Date’ stars fail to hide film’s flaws

November 10, 2010

by Robert Wilson, Associate Managing Editor

Following in the same vein as Steve Martin and John Candy’s buddy-comedy “Planes, Trains, and Automobiles” and the classic pairing of David Spade and Chris Farley in “Tommy Boy,” the new film “Due Date” from Legendary Pictures follows an unlikely duo who undergo a series of bizarre and extraordinary circumstances after they are forced to travel cross-country together.

“Due Date” follows Peter Highman (Robert Downey Jr.), a successful and high-strung architect who is to fly from Atlanta to Los Angeles to witness the birth of his first child. However, when aspiring-actor Ethan Tremblay (Zach Galifianakis) causes both to be thrown off of the flight and placed on a no-fly list, Peter has little choice but to accept Ethan’s offer to drive across America with his French bulldog Scotty.

As far as road-trip movies go, there are few new elements brought to the table in this venture. There are brief musical montages set to shots of the countryside woven around examples of everything that can go wrong. From being beaten by a wheelchair-bound war veteran to having a near-death experience after their car flies off an overpass, there seems to be no shortage of barriers to be overcome.

The strength of the movie easily comes from the chemistry between Downey Jr. and Galifianakis. The slacker, care-free figure of Ethan perfectly balances out Peter’s uptight, self-superior persona; combined with their sharp comedic timing, Downey Jr. and Galifianakis frequently bring senses of realism to the characters.

However, even this dynamic pair cannot balance out the many unbalanced aspects of the film. The mood abruptly switches from goofy comedy to arguably brutal violence or drama more than once, making me wonder whether or not I was supposed to be laughing. Keeping up with the tradition of having a pivotal and emotional scene that brings the two characters to terms with each other’s differences, “Due Date” goes as far as to include three, including one that comes fairly quickly near the beginning of the journey.

There are numerous unexplained plot holes, including a scene near the end that should have resulted in Peter and Ethan being arrested on multiple felony charges. However, as soon as the scene ends, there is no indication whatsoever that the pair will face consequences for their actions, like the cops just gave up after a few blocks.

Even their developing friendship is confusing; after nearly every setback, Peter and Ethan share a bonding moment, only to turn right around and jump at each other’s throats again. Also, beneath Peter’s seemingly calm and collected exterior lurks a raging bull who snaps so often and with such ferocity, it is truly a wonder how even the enormously socially-awkward Ethan can so earnestly bring himself to continue to even get in a vehicle with the man.

Coming from the same director of the commercially-hailed “Old School” and last year’s overwhelming hit “The Hangover,” Todd Phillips hits a snag with “Due Date.” While a decent movie in its own right, it seems so much more could have been done with the levels of talent possessed by Downey Jr. and Galifianakis. In the meantime, it will give Phillips’ fans something to wear out until the release of “The Hangover Part II.”

E-mail comments to rww015@latech.edu.