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In Due Date, a skinny, scowly, and dryly self-referential Robert Downey Jr. meets a chubby, beardy, quasi-autistic Zach Galifianakis boarding a flight from Atlanta to Los Angeles. Downey Jr. plays Peter, a Bluetoothed architect with a very pregnant wife (Michelle Monaghan) waiting at home for him; Galifianakis's Ethan is a would-be movie star headed to Hollywood, with a pocket dog under one arm and a coffee can containing his recently deceased dads ashes under the other. One nonsensical, barely explicated altercation later, both Peter and Ethan are kicked off the plane and barred from boarding another. Ethan rents a car and offers Peter a cross-country ride, which provides a framework for a series of sketches: As they make their way across the country, this odd couple bickers, smokes lots of pot, destroys several cars, evades border police, and works out daddy issues in the process.
In interviews to promote Due Date, director Todd Phillips has claimed that the film was intended as a battery-recharging quickie in between the king-making success of The Hangover and the high-pressure assignment of creating a franchise-cementing sequel. The best thing that can be said about Due Date is that it lives up to Phillipss advance billing: From a breakneck pace that makes its 95-minute running time fly by, to the high-contrast patina of its high-speed Super 35 source stock, to a stoner-esque disinterest in Chekhovian payoff thats such a balls-out fuck-you to conventional screenwriting that its sort of exciting, Due Date is fast, lazy, and out of control in a manner thats basically commendable.
Which is not to say its cheap: Phillips, who also directed Starsky & Hutch, has a thing for extended, highly destructive car chases that, in their relentless momentum and defiance of real-world consequence, almost qualify as surreal. He also likes to hammer home moments of genuine emotion with sweeping crane shots and expensive source cues. Here, the production's bloat is at odds with the material's scrappy charm.
Due Dates best running gag revolves around Ethans acting ambitions, and while Galifianakis's material (written by a team of screenwriters, including Phillips) isnt always fresh (Ethan's headshot looks a lot like that of Arrested Developments Tobias Funke), its hard to imagine another contemporary comic getting this kind of mileage out of wearing a Lilith Fair T-shirt and gently ribbing Two and a Half Men. As in The Hangover, Galifianakiss full commitment to his characters multivalent strangeness, his ability to rocket back and forth between laughing stock, antagonist, and sympathetic herosometimes within the space of a single line readingmakes him Due Dates MVP. And unlike Downey and supporting players Jamie Foxx and Danny McBride, you never get the sense that Galifianakis the actor is winking at you from behind the character.
Last months soggy-sincere indie Its Kind of a Funny Story, which cast Galifianakis as a mental patient/ward mentor, was supposed to offer the comedian the chance to capital-A Act, but hes more convincing as a functional crazy person in Due Datehis performance is the only thing grounding a film that brashly flouts character development and narrative causality. I dont know how long this can lastI dont know how many scenes Galifianakis can steal in big-budget mainstream comedies before his act, particularly the self-serious naïveté that wont quit until his hardened sidekicks and/or opponents submit to it, becomes codified, losing its veneer of spontaneity and thus its appeal. But for now, his chemistry with Phillips is the filmmaker's greatest asset.
Due Date, like The Hangover before it, barrels through increasingly fantastic set pieces on its way to a major grown-up man rite of passage, but in this case, the journey is divorced from the destination. Downey's Peter has no need for big life lessons: He's kind of an asshole, but an asshole who's fully committed to his marriage and impending fatherhood, and he's allowed to stay more or less the same asshole throughout his travails. Due Date's reluctance to impose late-inning moral change may just be a function of its lackadaisical construction, but it's refreshing nonetheless. Blissfully, each disaster is solely for the sake of slapstick.
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