thu 09/02/2023

Due Date | reviews, news & interviews

Due Date

Due Date

No planes or trains, but automobiles: an odd-couple road movie rings bells

'I despise you on a cellular level': Robert Downey Jr buddies up to Zach Galifianakis

Todd Phillips’s interest in road trips as a hook for 90 minutes of male bad behaviour continues with this virtual remake of Planes, Trains and Automobiles. For mismatched couple Steve Martin and John Candy, read Robert Downey Jr and Zach Galifianakis.

“I despise you on a cellular level,” Downey Jr tells the latter, whose boundless stupidity directly causes him to be banned from plane travel by Homeland Security, battered by a wheelchair-bound Iraq veteran, have his arm broken in a car crash, shot (twice) and arrested by Mexican border guards. You can’t blame him.

Phillips’s films are slowly moving through the stages of life, in the style of Shane MacGowan staggering home on New Year’s Day. Road Trip (2000) featured sex-crazed college kids, Old School (2003) saw ageing divorced frat boys going back to college, The Hangover’s miscreants had to get to a wedding; now, the due date for Peter Highman (Downey Jr) is to reach LA from Atlanta for his child’s birth. Unfortunately, before he can even enter the airport, he meets Ethan Tremblay (Galifianakis), en route to Hollywood to scatter his dad’s ashes and parlay his abysmal acting skills into stardom (“Two and a Half Men is the reason I became an actor,” he confides of the Charlie Sheen sitcom). Ethan’s invincible idiocy swiftly leaves Peter unwillingly dependant on his car and money to get home.

DueDateGalifianakis, still best known as the podgy bearded one in The Hangover, finesses that film’s clingy unselfconscious loser into a more focused, extravagant monster. Ethan’s mincing walk and actorly scarf add to his high but rarely rising voice in a perfect storm of irritation. His deadpan ignorance in The Hangover (musing, after a character has lost a “Holocaust ring” his grandmother brought through the camps: “I didn’t know they gave out rings at the Holocaust”) is almost matched upon seeing the Grand Canyon: “I could’ve sworn it was manmade…” His wrong self-righteousness and child-like hurt are beautifully underplayed by Galifianakis, making the deadly horror of his company exquisite. “You are the most shot-out 23-year-old I have ever seen,” Peter observes in wonder at this pot-bellied, permed boy-man (who, being an actor, lies about his age and name). He is Graham Greene’s Quiet American as stoned slacker, innocence his most dangerous quality.

It seems only yesterday that Robert Downey Jr was a visibly high, chaotic star on the slide in a workaday Tommy Lee Jones vehicle, US Marshals. His transformation into a straight-edge straight man seems complete in his early scenes as a besuited architect appalled by Ethan’s errant pothead. But the fearsome, bulging-eyed intensity his drug use may once have countered remains. It gave his scenes poisoning himself towards a fatal heart attack in Iron Man 2 that film’s moments of sweaty conviction. Here, left alone with a pair of irritating kids while Ethan buys weed from their dealer mom Juliette Lewis, he is perhaps the only current leading man who could sucker-punch a 10-year-old in the stomach and not really surprise you. The minute’s comedown as the audience gasps at that daring sight-gag - Downey Jr’s wordless threats to the winded kid like a mafioso to a witness, the returning Lewis’s dazed comprehension that there’s something wrong with this picture - is a little marvel of comic playing.

The sheer hatred Peter feels for Ethan is greater than, say, De Niro’s for Charles Grodin in Midnight Run, and more akin to racist Tony Curtis chained to Sidney Poitier in The Defiant Ones. Though they declare their love for each other at the end (with stalkerish commitment from the sexually unspecified Ethan), the sentiment is admirably half-hearted for an American comedy. Even so-called extremists such as the Farrelly brothers make sure you know their heart’s in the right place. Due Date is only a machine for jokes and slick set-pieces, with less narrative interest but more subtle characterisation than The Hangover. With its scolding, distant women and catalogue of physical misfortunes for Peter, it finally resembles the Tom and Jerry cartoon glimpsed early on. It’s highly strung professional Peter’s misfortune to be cast as Tom.

  • Due Date opens on Friday
  • Find the films of Todd Phillips on Amazon

Watch the Due Date trailer:

Robert Downey Jr is perhaps the only current leading man who could sucker-punch a 10-year-old in the stomach and not really surprise you

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