Directed by: Todd Phillips
Starring: Robert Downey, Jr.; Zach Galifianakis; Michelle Monaghan, Jamie Foxx
Rated: R for language, drug use and sexual content.
There are some mysteries we may never solve. What happened to Amelia Earhart? What happened to the settlers at Roanoke Colony? And why on Earth is Robert Downey, Jr. in “Due Date?” One might be forgiven for seeing the trailers, noting that the director is the fellow who made “The Hangover,” and assuming that this is a good sign for the quality of the film.
I made that assumption, and oh my was I wrong.
The trailers made me wince, but I reminded myself that the trailers for “The Hangover” did the same thing and I loved it anyway. So I went to see “Due Date.” I don’t entirely regret the decision, as negative reviews are fairly easy to write, and the film does have one strong point: it’s only an hour and a half long.
It’s a familiar comedy plot: two extremely dissimilar characters, one of whom aggravates the other almost beyond sanity, are forced to share close quarters for an extended period. Peter (Downey) is a short-tempered architect whose wife has a C-section planned in five days. When his wallet is stolen and he winds up on a no-fly list with his luggage on the plane anyway, his only option turns out to be accepting a ride cross-country from wannabe actor Ethan Tremblay (Zach Galifianakis), who has also wound up on the no-fly list. Ethan is traveling with his small, mostly-charming but occasionally horrifyingly inappropriate dog, Sonny.
Over the course of their time together, the childlike, extroverted Ethan drives Peter up the wall and over it. His character seems like an attempt to recapture the lightning that was Galifianakis’ performance in “The Hangover,” but there’s a fine line between uncomfortable-in-a-funny-way and laughing-at-the-crippled-kid. Some folks have far more tolerance for the latter sort of humor than I, and they are the audience for this film.
Peter is horrible to Ethan, who remains generally good-humored and optimistic in spite of Peter’s cruelty to him. There are moments when it seems like Peter is genuinely sorry and sees how awful he’s being, and they are strange flashes of genuine humanity in a film whose humor derives almost entirely from being inhumane. It gives one a strange feeling of whiplash. Are we supposed to find Peter’s abuse of Ethan hilarious or upsetting? Had the film been slightly more edgy, it might have been an indictment of that style of humor, but instead it’s merely a shoddy example of it.
It’s very odd to see Downey acting with all the sincerity and skill he has in a film like this. Doubly so when one considers that with two remarkably successful franchises starring him, he hardly needs the money. Perhaps he just has the same sense of humor as the rest of the folks behind this film. Or maybe the script was very different from the final product. Whatever the answer is, we’ll never know.
All I know is, I want my ninety-five minutes back, and unless you find it hilarious to watch a grown man cry like a child because his daddy’s dead, you probably will too.