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Due Date Is A Bit of A Hangover From, Well, You Know

Due Date
Directed by Todd Phillips
Written by Phillips, Alan R. Cohen, Alan Freedland, and Adam Sztykiel
Warner Bros., 2010

I can’t quite put my finger on whether Todd Phillips is a bona fide comedy talent, or merely has the feel for comedy enough that the material and the actors brought to such projects end up turning out good on most occasions.  There is a very real argument that Todd Phillips is a hack, and I’m not sure I could argue against it, although many have either ripped off or stood on the shoulders of others and don’t have quite nearly the success.  In my review of Due Date, I’m going to compare all of his other movies against each other, leaving out Starsky and Hutch and School for Scoundrels, movies that don’t quite fit into this discussion except for one thing: one was a TV remake and the other was just a classic remake.

The Road Trip:

Yep, Phillips came onto the scene with Road Trip, which took its entire plot from the little seen Paul Rudd/Reese Witherspoon comedy Overnight Delivery.  In The Hangover, which could basically be seen as a Dude, Where’s My Car? for thirtysomethings, a bunch of buddies take a trip to Vegas for a bachelor party and need to get back in time for the wedding.  In Due Date, which takes its entire plot from Plains, Trains, and Automobiles, two mismatched strangers, Peter Highman (Robert Downey Jr) and Ethan Tremblay (Zach Galifianakis) have to drive cross country to Los Angeles so that Peter can see his wife (Michelle Monaghan) and witness the birth of his first child, while Ethan has dreams of being an actor, specifically on Two and a Half Men.

Troubled Marriages and Cheating:

Road Trip revolves completely around a college kid thinking his sweetheart at another college is cheating on him.  In Old School, the Will Ferrell/Perrey Reeves marriage is immediately on the rocks soon after they tie the knot, because men will be men and don’t want to grow up, dammit.  Also, the Craig Kilborn/Ellen Pompeo matchup is rife with cheating from Kilborn.  The Hangover’s Ed Helms has to endure reminders that his lady love Rachael Harris has cheated on a cruise ship with a bartender.  And in Due Date, there is some question that Highman’s baby might turn out to be bi-racial since she hung out with her old boyfriend, and Highman’s best friend, Darryl (Jamie Foxx) nine months ago, and she didn’t seem to be entirely honest about it.

Arrested Development:

It was a theme throughout the last decade and Todd Phillips comedies were no different, starting with Old School, in which none of the adults really want to be adults and want to continue to be frat house kings.  In The Hangover, it’s the same thing, but especially with Galifianakis’ character, which brings us to Due Date.  Galifianakis’ character here is less insane than in The Hangover, but there isn’t much difference between this guy and that guy.  He is a sweet man but puts everyone around him in danger and/or general trouble.

There are a lot of similarities between the movies, and a lot of similarities between other movies, but he does make something that can be defined as his own.  Like, for instance, Galafianakis’ character Tremblay echoes a small section of The Big Lebowski by holding his dead father’s ashes in a coffee can, but it’s his dead father that also drives much of the heart of the movie and is his motivation for doing many of the crazy things he does.

It also goes to show where we are in our thinking of Robert Downey Jr. these days.  In other times, Downey might have been the Galafianakis character.  It’s a bit strange to see him playing the straight man, although he does have his problems “that he’s trying to work through,” an anger management problem that can go from funny to horrifying very easily.  When Downey’s character Highman is held up in airline security because of “paraphernalia” and mentions, “I’ve never done drugs,” it’s still a bit too soon for me to shake the irony of that quote.  Downey’s comeback occurred with some small roles in 2005-2007, leading up to the Iron Man megastar he became in 2008.  It does seem like a long time ago he was the Hollywood bad boy who couldn’t clean up, but it was seven years ago.  That’s a long time in Hollywood, but it’s really not a long time.

By the way: a ton of re-teams in this movie: Downey and Juliette Lewis (Natural Born Killers), Downey and Danny McBride (Tropic Thunder), and Downey and Monaghan (Kiss Kiss Bang Bang).

Due Date has a handful of very funny scenes, especially the daring escape from Mexico and a couple of well-delivered lines from Galifianakis and Downey, and I have a feeling this movie, on its own, is something that could be watched again on cable sometime with a better appreciation.  It will unfortunately be mercilessly compared to The Hangover and it’s definitely not as funny as that movie.  It does have more heart than anything Phillips has ever done (no doubt assisted by King of the Hill writers Cohen and Freeland), and that counts for something.  Overall, it’s average, and you could do worse.

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