Downey plays Peter Highman, an architect from Los Angeles who, for some unexplained reason, has taken a business trip to Atlanta the same week his wife, Sarah (Michelle Monaghan), is going to give birth.
At the airport, Peter meets Ethan Tremblay (Zach Galifianakis), a gigantic weirdo who is traveling to L.A. to break into the movie business. The two clash immediately, and a series of misunderstandings, along with a combination of Peter’s dickishness and Ethan’s idiocy, lands them both on the government’s No Fly List (though it’s never mentioned how bad being on such a list would be for a guy like Peter, who travels for business mere days before his first child is born).
Peter can’t rent a car or buy a train ticket because he left his wallet on the plane, but Ethan drives up in a car of his own, offers Peter a ride and the movie is off to the races.
The movie’s story is so similar to Planes, Trains and Automobiles, with Downey and Galifianakis assuming Steve Martin and John Candy’s respective roles, that I couldn’t keep from comparing the two, usually in that movie’s favor. In movies like Planes, Trains and Automobiles and Midnight Run, much of the enjoyment of the films hinges on the audience growing to like the characters, and caring about all the terrible stuff that keeps happening to them, but that just doesn’t happen here. Due Date can be oddly mean-spirited and weird, and while the clash between Downey and Galifianakis is believable, their eventual friendship is not.
Candy’s character in Planes, Trains and Automobiles was more of a lovable loser, but here, Ethan is so over-the-top insane that he must be either certifiable or doing it on purpose. He is less of a character and more of an excuse for comic set-pieces, a walking set-up for jokes instead of a recognizable human being. Galifianakis did a good job in The Hangover of bringing out the sweetness in the goofball he was playing, but here there just isn’t a lot of humanity to latch onto.
Downey’s character has a similar problem. Downey is charismatic enough that he can make pretty much any character likeable, but here he is playing less of a frustrated straight man, someone for the audience to identify with, and more of a smoldering volcano of rage. He punches children and spits on dogs, and he seems like he’s genuinely liable to flip out and violently attack Galifianakis at some point.
If the movie had gone further in that dark direction, and tried for some genuinely disturbing comedy, it might have been more interesting—the road trip buddy comedy in which both buddies are nuts. But the movie keeps pulling back and trying to be mainstream, so it has these weird, sometimes off-putting characters that it tries to force into these sentimental scenes in which everybody learns and grows, but the attempts at emotion feel false and unearned. The way the two characters grow closer over the course of the film is never particularly believable, and once the two get back to Los Angeles it still seems like Peter would run screaming from Ethan as quickly as possible.
The movie does have quite a few funny supporting characters that the leads run into during their travels, including Juliette Lewis and director Todd Phillips as pot dealers (in Birmingham!), Jamie Foxx as a friend of Peter’s and Danny McBride as a surly Western Union employee.
While all those characters are reliably hilarious, the movie does waste Monaghan as Peter’s wife. She is fine, but she’s only in a few short scenes, and the movie never really defines her character, never gives us a concrete idea of just what Downey wants to get home to. And putting Downey and Monaghan together just served to remind me of their previous collaboration, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, which worked far better than this film both as a comedy and a buddy movie.
Downey and Galifianakis have decent chemistry, though, and the problems with their characters can be mostly contributed to the film’s script, credited to Alan R. Cohen & Alan Freedland and Adam Sztykiel & Todd Phillips. This is Phillips’ first film as director since The Hangover, and it includes some of the same raunchy jokes (Ethan doing something very private in the passenger seat of the car, while his dog imitates its master; a coffee can containing the ashes of Ethan’s dead father), many of which land, but have none of that movie’s heart and energy.
While Due Date has its share of laughs, little else about the film comes together. Despite the best attempts of Downey and Galifianakis, the film can’t seem to decide whether it wants to go for dark laughs or schmaltzy sentiment, and ends up being an unsatisfying mixture of the two.
Carey Norris writes about film for Birmingham Weekly. Send your comments to email@example.com.