Friday, December 3, 2010

Man on Film: Due Date

Despite initial enthusiasm when first hearing of the pairing of Zach Galifianakis and Robert Downey, Jr., it took nearly a month to get out and see this one.  TSLF and I finally took in Due Date Thursday afternoon.  Heading down for the first showing at the Downtown Alamo, we were the only people in the theater.  I thought this was the only time that's happened for me at any of the Alamo Drafthouse locations, but apparently we were the only ones there when we went to Jumper (fuck that movie).  Where the first time we were the only ones in the theater was fitting, this time wasn't.

Now, that isn't to say that Due Date was great.  My expectations were actually fairly low for the film considering the pairing of Galifianakis and Downey, and I'm not sure it met those tempered hopes.  Ultimately, Due Date suffers from the fact that it is a lesser version of a better film in Planes, Trains & Automobiles.  Given the obvious similarities between the two and the fact that I've seen the John Hughes classic about 30 times, it seems almost impossible to separate the two when viewing Due Date for the first time. 

In both, you have the high-strung business men trying to get home for an important family event (here, the titularly implied birth of a child rather than Thanksgiving) whose paths cross with a bumbling dimwit who seems to be able to do little else than inflict damage on their traveling partner.  After Galifianakis's long overdue breakout in his last teaming with director Todd Phillips, The Hangover, the bar may have been set unreasonably high.  He definitely excels operating from the fringe, and he is on the fringe again here.  Unfortunately, Alan, his character from The Hangover, was significantly more likable than Ethan Tremblay.  Ethan is also significantly less endearing than John Candy's Del Griffith.  Where Del is really the heart and soul of Planes, Trains & Automobiles, Ethan Tremblay never feels like anything more than a caricature.  Sure, his dad just died, but it feels like that was shoehorned in to the film to give the character depth artificially.  There is also the fact that at the end of the day, Del was just a widower trying to get by as a road salesman while Ethan hopes to be an actor.  There is an element of working class appeal that Del has that simply is not there with Ethan.  That isn't to say there isn't appeal to what Ethan is seeking out to do, but he is essentially seeking celebrity and his goal is to be on Two and a Half Men (no offense, Jon Cryer).  While that dream may be as much a product of this time as anything else, it is less sympathetic than Del's trade nonetheless.  

Now, while I was able to see where detractors were coming from on The Hangover, it worked for me.  Maybe it was that it seemed to signify a graduation of Todd Phillips to slightly more adult comedies.  Despite the fact that Phillips is almost ten years older than I am, it seems like he has evolved from doing undergrad comedies (Road Trip) to delaying adulthood comedies (Old School) to pre-nuptial fare (The Hangover) to pre-parenthood films.  Now, yes, I'm cherry-picking a bit here (I ignored Starsky & Hutch and School for Scoundrels during this time-line), but there seems to be a very clear movement here. In many respects, Due Date is his most adult work to date; it just isn't his funniest.  In fact, it is pretty derivative.  It basically operates on the principle that if you just take everything a little bit further than it went in Planes, Trains & Automobiles it will be even funnier than that.  That principle is sadly misguided in this case. 

As for Downey, he is very good.  There is no surprise here.  He plays the straight man to Galifianakis's buffoon well, much like Steve Martin did in 1987.  Any of the shortcomings of the film do not come down on him, so don't worry about that.

Maybe it is that Phillips has decided to step out from the group comedies he has done before.  With a smaller cast of primary characters, so much more of what has to happen is related to developing characters.  Without depth, the shortcomings of a lack of development becomes all the more glaring.  If you think about The Hangover, only one character markedly changes throughout the course of the film.  With two primary characters, when only one character changes, what was the point of the buddy flick in the first place?  Ethan Tremblay is essentially the same character that he was at the beginning of the film as he is at the end.  Sure, his dream is realized, but it doesn't seem like there is any growth.

It occurs to me that I've spent a lot of time bashing this film.  It isn't actually that bad.  There are things to like about it.  Despite the narrative weaknesses, Downey and Galifianakis are solid.  It is also nice to see a re-teaming of Downey and his Kiss Kiss Bang Bang love interest, the beautiful Iowan, Michelle Monaghan. Danny McBride is great in his cameo (something that should come as no surprise to anyone).  RZA and Jamie Foxx are both very funny as well.  And despite the film's script-related issues, I do think that Phillips has a good eye, something that is not all that common amongst comedic directors.

In the end, what matters the most in a comedy is probably whether or not it delivers the laughs.  Perhaps I wasn't in the ideal environment to be able to rule on this matter, but much like the narrative issues I have with the film, it was just kind of average in this department.  I suppose this is the most apt description of this film:  Average.


Little Brother said...

Hard to pick a favorite from Planes, Tranes and Automobiles. Dylan Baker playing Owen, and then going on to his other roles is awesome, and then the scene when they get pulled over might be my 1 and 2.

Favorite part of Due Date had to be when Downey punches the kid in the stomach [and the scene right as their leaving] have to be the best IMO.

Old Man Duggan said...

That was absolutely the best part of Due Date. That kid was a shit.

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