15 July 2011

Movies: Due Date

Due Date (2010) http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1231583/

Comedy starring Robert Downey Jr. and Zach Galifianakis about Peter (Downey) trying to get home to L.A. for the birth of his first child, a delivery via scheduled C-section. He briefly bumps in to Ethan (Galifianakis) outside the airport, causing a slight mixup of carry-on items. Peter re-encounters Ethan on the plane, where a small conversation involving the words "cell phone" "terrorist" and "bomb" gets Peter shot by an air marshal (with a rubber bullet) and both of them kicked off the plane and put on the no-fly list.  As all of Peter's luggage is on the aircraft, including his carry-on items, he has no money and no ID. He has to get to L.A. Re-enter Ethan in a rented car, offering to take Peter to L.A. as he's headed the same way.  Interstate hijinks occur. Can Peter make it back to L.A. in time? Can he survive the trip?

Yes - sounds like this could unfold in a manner very similar to the classic Planes, Trains and Automobiles (PTA).  Two strangers, stuck in the same car, trying to get home by a certain date (Thanksgiving in PTA's case).  Crazy stuff happens along the way.

Except the stuff that happens in Due Date is weirder, darker, more disgusting in some cases, sometimes more outlandish and unreal.  Not quite the feel-good comedy classic that is Planes, Trains and Automobiles.

Here's the thing. Galifianakis can pull off the man-child with no social skills and no filters character quite well. A lot of his more recent film characters have been that guy. I have no complaints about Galifianakis being good at that type of character, even his stand-up is kindof that way. Downey Jr does that Downey Jr thing he can do - he is a very good actor and has great comedic sensibilities, even when he's playing the neurotic straight-man.  Basically both guys do quite well in their roles as given to them.

But in the end the film just felt like someone reworked the PTA script and threw stuff in there to one-up the original script - make the straight man (Downey) more high-strung, make the chubby guy (Galifianakis) live in a wholly different weird universe, then hit the same PTA beats: get in a vehicle, driver falls asleep and car crash, a friend picks 'em up in a pickup truck, lots of yelling back and forth, do some other crazy shit, involve a dead relative, add the ta-da at the end.

Due Date has its moments that can bring on a chuckle or guffaw, some might make you turn your head and go 'ewww' while you laugh a little at the absurdity and wrongness, but it just doesn't work as a whole in the end. Not like Planes, Tranes and Automobiles. In PTA you come to care about the characters, it's silly and funny, everyone has Thanksgiving dinner. In Due Date you don't really give a crap about either character because neither has endearing qualities. Plus it brings up plot points to only dismiss them too easily or completely ignore their resolution, some leaving gaping holes.  Kindof sloppy in ways.

It's amusing at times, it was filmed well, acted well for what they're given to do. But as a whole the film is soulless despite the efforts of its cast. It can't avoid being compared with Planes, Trains and Automobiles, and just looks bad in comparison.  And I don't even have to re-watch PTA to understand that.

So what went so wrong in this film? I dunno - but I don't think it was the cast. Surprisingly it was directed by Todd Phillips, the same guy that directed Road Trip, Starsky & Hutch, School for Scoundrels, The Hangover (I and II), Old School, and even helped write some of those scripts as well. This film did have four credited writers. Sometimes that's a warning flag - original story gets new writer to punch it up, someone hates the rewrites and brings a different guy on, director signs on and makes more screenplay changes, nothing resembles the original film idea. Maybe it got punted around so much that someone just said, "make the freakin thing now while we have all these folks signed on then try to polish up that turd." I got no clue. It just doesn't work well, especially when compared with similarly themed films that worked so much better.

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