THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan
The "road trip movie" formula is well established: put at least two characters in a car and set them out on a series of wacky adventures, conveniently designed to help them learn to appreciate each other by the end. The formula is old, but it also works, so long as the filmmakers find some fresh angle with which to approach it. Due Date seems, on the surface, like it would be a great road trip comedy. It has a perfect mismatching of stars, as well as a director (Todd Phillips of Old School and The Hangover) who specializes in edgy, hilarious humor. And while parts of the movie undeniably work, the final result isn't entirely satisfying because that fresh angle simply isn't there. Instead of finding its own way, Due Date is largely an updating of the John Hughes classic Planes, Trains & Automobiles, in which an uptight businessman learns humility from spending several days in the company of an obnoxious man-child.
The uptight businessman in this case is Peter Highman (Robert Downey, Jr.), an architect trying to get from Atlanta to L.A. in time for the birth of his first child. The man-child is aspiring actor Ethan Tremblay (Zach Galifianakis), who butts heads with Peter on an airplane, setting off a series of events that causes them both to get placed on the "no-fly list." Since Peter's wallet, money, and ID were left on the aircraft, he has no choice but to accept a ride with Ethan in a rental car. The requisite comic complications ensue, including Ethan falling asleep behind the wheel, a visit to a drug dealer (Juliette Lewis), and a pit stop at the Grand Canyon so that Ethan can scatter the ashes of his late father. The more protracted the trip becomes, the more Peter worries that he won't make it to the hospital in time.
Downey, Jr. and Galifianakis are both very good in their roles. The former brings his trademark offbeat choices to his role, finding original ways to humorously play Peter's exasperation; the latter again demonstrates an ability to be interestingly, lovably weird. They're terrific together on screen - a genuine odd couple. This is what makes me wish that the characters they're playing had been more well-drawn. Peter is so high strung that he's a jerk even when talking on the phone to his wife, and whereas Ethan occasionally shows some emotional vulnerability, it only serves to make him seem more kooky than he already is.
When Due Date is funny, it's very funny. There are undoubtedly some big laughs, such as the scene in which Peter babysits the drug dealer's obnoxious kids, or a bit where the guys encounter a surly Western Union employee, played by Danny McBride. But the problem is that it's never consistently funny. Since the main characters are largely one-note, the laughs (when they come) tend to emerge from peripheral things, like Ethan's dog, who emulates his owner in the crudest of ways. Some of the sequences fall flat outright. When Peter and Ethan accidentally cross over into Mexico, their resulting attempt to escape is a dud that slows down the whole picture.
On the whole, I'm kind of in the middle here. The film would have been much better served to find some new wrinkles, rather than merely aping Planes, Trains & Automobiles right down to the "heartwarming" ending. Yet even in its lack of originality, the casting and some of the individual scenes are strong enough to almost save it. Watching Due Date is kind of like taking a really lengthy car trip. Every so often, you see something awesome, but then there are long stretches of monotony in between.
( 1/2 out of four)
Due Date will be available for purchase on Feb. 21 on DVD or in a DVD/Blu-Ray combo pack.
The bonus features are surprisingly scant for a major studio release that grossed more than $100 million at the box office. There's only about 20 minutes of material here, and two of the segments are worthless. "Too Many Questions Mash-Up" is a 41-second reel of the Galifianakis character asking Downey various questions. "Action Mash-Up" is 30 seconds long and quickly edits bits of physical comedy from the film. Since you can see all this stuff in the context of the movie, I'm not sure why it's been assembled in this form.
Much better is the complete "Two and a Half Men" scene that plays a pivotal role in the film's ending. It's fun to see the whole thing by itself. There is a 6-minute gag reel that's intermittently funny, and three deleted scenes. Of these, the most noteworthy is one of the characters discussing "Two and a Half Men" in the car.
A digital copy of the movie is also included. Picture and sound quality are first rate.
Due Date is rated R for language, drug use and sexual content. The running time is 1 hour and 35 minutes.