This is most definitely a movie that benefits from a second viewing. When I first went to write this review, I was stuck with what I really thought about this as a film, as my first impression was that of disappointment and slight irritation at the knowledge that this film could’ve been much better. On second viewing, I still stand by that but I managed to appreciate the film more for what it is, which is a madcap, gross out road trip movie.
The film follows Robert Downey Jnr. as Peter, a man who is expecting his first child and is on his way back home to be there for the birth. But due to a huge misunderstanding that lands him on the no fly list, he is forced to drive with the simple-minded yet kind natured Ethan Tremblay (Zach Galifianakis) who has aspirations of making it big in Hollywood. Cue drug fuelled, dog masturbating, child abusing, disability mocking, coffee can ashes craziness as the mis-matched pair try to make it across state. It is not an orginal premise, and a premise which has been done before, and better, by the John Hughes comedy Planes, Trains and Automobiles, which starred Steve Martin and John Candy. What that film got absolutely spot on, as was Hughes talent, was the mix between slapstick and sentimentality. No matter what the characters did to each other, you still liked them and believed they could actually be friends at the end of this.
With Due Date, it has far too much gross-out comedy to considered sweet and the two stars relationship seems to bounce back and forth far too easily. The characters themselves are well constructed to begin with for this sort of film, with hopes for development. The only one that does develop is Ethan. A lot of the film is devoted to his goals, his acting and disposing of his father’s ashes. This isn’t a bad thing, as Ethan is the one who supplies the best laughs in the film and the father story line is touching. But for a film that is titled Due Date, in reference to trying to get to a birth date on time, it doesn’t focus as on this as much as I would’ve liked it to. The sub-plot of Ethan’s father could very easily have complimented Downey Jnr.’s Peter upcoming fatherhood, as he could’ve taken the stories of Ethan’s father to help himself know what it’s like to be a dad, having an absent father himself. Now it does nearly go into this when Peter describes his father leaving. It could have led to some excellent character development with Peter finding in himself the courage to be a good father, but it doesn’t go any further. If they had also made a bit more significance of the stuff monkey toy, it would’ve given the story just that bit more drive so you would actually still care about Peter getting there on time, as by the end of it, I didn’t really care if he was going to make it or not.
The moments of humour and emotion are not very well handled by director Todd Phillips, who gave us The Hangover. He is much better at the bad taste, random humour that made The Hangover so funny. There are moments like that here, but some come across as more nasty than funny, such as Peter punching a small child, that’s a great way for a father-to-be to handle children who act up. But there is one moment that really caught my attention, one moment where sentimentality and humour are blended perfectly, the coffee drinking scene. It is genuinely funny and touching and shows how the film has great potential to be a new Planes, Trains and Automobiles. But then you have a scene like the Grand Canyon sequence, which goes on far too long and does nothing for the relationship between the two characters.
The two main leads both cautiously walk the line of likeability, particularly Downey Jnr. His character doesn’t seem to care enough about getting there for the birth and makes us wonder why we should care as well. Zach Galifianakis is very funny as Ethan, but it’s nothing different from what we’ve seen him do in The Hangover and Dinner for Schmucks. He does show slightly more versatility in the moments where Ethan acts, a scene in a public toilet also highlighting a better moment in the film.
Now I know this is coming across as very negative, but there is some good here. The film is very well shot, Phillips making excellent use of the landscapes the road has to offer as the two characters make their journey. Some of it is also very funny, a break out from the Mexican border being a highlight. A lot of the funny bits are in the trailers, but there is fun to be had here as the script is very quick and witty and delivered with the right amount of pace by the two main stars who do work well against each other, even though it is Galifianakis who delivers the funniest lines. So, for what it is, it does offer some very good laughs and crazy set pieces, just some parts make it a less fulfilling experience then it could’ve been, especially with the comedic creative force behind it. Hangover 2.0 it ain’t.