Friday, November 12, 2010

'Due Date' is not quite funny enough

“Due Date” is a movie that is equal parts funny and frustrating. There are laughs, but drastic shifts in tone and characters that aren’t particularly likable make for an uneasy film-going experience.

This is director and co-writer Todd Philips follow up to his wildly successful “The Hangover.” Philips reunites with Zach Galifianakis, who after bouncing around Hollywood for more than a decade became a star with his scene-stealing performance in “The Hangover.”

Many people are sure to compare the two films, but “Due Date” is essentially a reworking of John Hughes’ “Planes, Trains and Automobiles.” Galifianakis’ Ethan Tremblay, a wannabe actor on his way to Hollywood, meets Robert Downey Jr.’s Peter Highman, who is on his way to Los Angeles for the birth of his child, outside an airport in Atlanta. Naturally, due to an absurd
misunderstanding, the mismatched duo must drive across the country together.

Downey’s character has anger issues that are severely agitated by Galifianakis’ behavior. There are several moments in which Downey attacks Galifianakis verbally and, in one case, physically. In spite of these abuses, the movie has scenes where the two act like best buds. These drastic shifts in mood make Downey’s character seem almost bi-polar.

Galifianakis is basically playing the same character he played in “The Hangover,” but even more awkward and dense. His performance in “The Hangover” was sort of endearing, but this new variation on similar qualities is just too much. Galifianakis goes from being oddly funny to just irritating.

We are right there with Downey’s frustration with the character; in fact, it is unbelievable that anyone would stick with Galifianakis after the string of things he puts Downey through, the least of which is a car accident.

There’s an incident at the Mexican border that stretches credibility to a breaking point. Galifianakis stages a rescue of an arrested Downey that breaks several laws and results in a stolen vehicle and yet there are never any repercussions.This sequence is key to why the film doesn’t work. It is over-the-top and broadly comic to the level of something like “Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle.”

Clearly, a comedy doesn’t need to be 100 percent realistic as long as it works within the world it creates. The problem is, “Due Date” has moments of drama that are played completely straight and based in reality.

Throughout the film, Galifianakis is carrying his father’s ashes in a coffee can, which leads to scenes where he gets emotional about his father. These moments of pathos, while well acted, come jarringly out of nowhere. One moment we are suppose to be laughing at the character and the next taking pity on him. It is an off-putting feeling.

It isn’t that comedy and serious moments can’t exist in the same movie.“Planes, Trains and Automobiles” successfully balanced comedy and pathos using the exact same premise and character dynamic as “Due Date,” but the moments of drama in that film seemed to flow naturally from the characters. It helped that you liked Steve Martin and John Candy in that film. You wouldn’t want to know either of the main characters in “Due Date.”

There are some very big laughs in “Due Date,” especially involving a bit where Galifianakis’ father’s ash are mistaken for coffee. The film opens with Downey describing a dream about a bear and the birth of his child that is bizarrely funny. Galifianakis has a silly walk that is indeed quite amusing. Unfortunately, the tone issues undermine any comic energy from building.

Familiar faces like Jamie Foxx, Juliette Lewis, Danny McBride and RZA pop up for a scene or two, but are largely wasted. The biggest waste is Michelle Monaghan as Downey’s wife. Monaghan’s break out performance was opposite Downey in “Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang” and the idea of seeing them together again is appealing, but alas Monaghan doesn’t get to play a character, she gets to be a plot point.

“Due Date” isn’t a complete waste of time, but if you absolutely must see it, wait for it to come to DVD and get it through Netflix or Redbox.

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