This 'Date' Is Expired
Glenn Kenny, Special to MSN Movies
Early on in "Due Date," the uptight, affluent, physically fit dude corrects the too-loose, indigent, slovenly-in-mind-and-body dude on the phrase "it's all downhill from here." Rather than apologizing for a violation of the uptight dude's space outside of an airport terminal, the slovenly dude cheerily informs him that it's "all uphill" from here. "Downhill," says Mr. Uptight, not-quite-blissfully ignorant of the fact that Mr. Slovenly is the fellow with whom he's going to share a cross-country trek. (This courtesy of some ridiculous circumstances that could have been dreamed up only by a moderately paranoid overprivileged Hollywood type with either limited experience of how the real world works these days, or an iron will to just steamroll over such considerations.) In any event, whether you yourself find the subsequent comedic hijinks of Mr. Uptight (Robert Downey Jr.) and Mr. Slovenly (Zach Galifianakis) a fun downhill coast or a doleful uphill slog will depend on just how hilarious you find the sight of a small dog rubbing its own genitals in imitation of its master, and whether you find such lines as "I once ate a foot-long corndog on a nude beach. I'll never do that again" the height of verbal wit.
"Due Date" is, for all intents and purposes, a "Planes, Trains and Automobiles" for the post-"Jackass" age. Downey's character, Peter Highman, is an architect whose pregnant wife (poor Michelle Monaghan, with nothing much to do) is scheduled for a C-section by week's end; only problem is, he's just been booted from his plane and put on a "no-fly" list as a result of his interaction with wacky, overly friendly fellow passenger Ethan, the bear-like Galifianakis. Hilarity is intended to ensue as they pool their limited resources to make the trek from Atlanta to Los Angeles in time for Peter to make the birth of his first child.
Co-written and directed by Todd Phillips, whose mega-success with last summer's panorama of fake-amiable boys-will-be-dumb crassness "The Hangover" has made him the slightly richer and much dumber man's Judd Apatow, "Due Date" does not quite waste the considerable comic talents of Galifianakis and Downey, who's superb here as an expectant dad who frequently has a hard time tamping down his reflexive hostility and pomposity. Interestingly, it's the innovative comic Galifianakis who turns in the weaker performance. You, however, might blame this on the generic quality of the jokes he's asked to deliver: drug and bodily-function gags that he sometimes livens up with the quirky, amusingly allusive stuff that he's more known for -- for instance, the deliberately bad Brando-as-Don Vito impersonation he delivers (his character's an aspiring actor) to a couple of pot dealers who aren't even aware of a movie called "The Godfather."
The duo are always watchable, even as the movie is recycling gags and tropes not just from "Planes, Trains," but from the first "National Lampoon's Vacation" picture, the immortal "The Big Lebowski" and even, just for good measure, "Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back." No, really. When this odd couple (and yes, of course, the slob-and-snob-thrown-together-by-circumstance plot in modern comedy dates back to that classic, at the very least) finally really bond, they do so over shared marijuana -- just like in "The Breakfast Club"! (This is the second studio comedy I've seen in a month that seems to believe that weed jokes are never-fail hysterical; when was I transported to an alternate universe in which Cheech and Chong entered the comedy pantheon?)
This is all pretty obvious and stale, but wildly amped up so as to be appropriate, which is to say appropriately "shocking," by contemporary standards. Which is in itself kind of stale, come to think of it. A stand-off between Downey and Galifianakis and a very surly Western Union clerk played by "Eastbound & Down"'s Danny McBride goes into what one might call "Oh no you didn't!" territory about three different ways before laboriously drawing to a genuinely unpleasant conclusion. And then there's the canine self-pleasuring. And when a gun finally comes out, and goes off, one wonders if this is going to be the kind of groundbreaking comedy that "Folks!" was. What, you don't remember "Folks!," the movie that tried to, erm, milk laughs out of its lead character losing a testicle? Well then. Your loss. But "Due Date" finally doesn't have the courage of what seemed to be its "oh, yes, we are going to go there" convictions -- or perhaps it just knows and respects its own limitations, or the limitations of what its target audience will enjoy/tolerate -- as it limps to its cheesy, predictable conclusion. And it does so in a relatively merciful 95 minutes or thereabouts. So it's got that going for it.
Glenn Kenny is chief film critic for MSN Movies. He was the chief film critic for Premiere magazine from 1998 to 2007. He contributes to various publications and websites and blogs at http://somecamerunning.typepad.com. He lives in Brooklyn.