Cast: Robert Downey Jr., Zach Galifianakis, Michelle Monaghan, Jamie Foxx
Director: Todd Phillips
Lately in movies there has been an epidemic of obvious music choices.
For example, the Beatles’ “Baby You’re a Rich Man” ends The Social Network. In Due Date, a Motown song about getting back to my baby opens the film as expected father Robert Downey Jr. prepares for a cross-country flight home to his very pregnant wife. It doesn’t end there. Is there a more obvious choice for a drug scene than Pink Floyd? If you have a touchy scene involving a dead father, what better way to spice it up than Neil Young’s “Old Man,” one of three songs known to make grown men cry.
Yet Due Date, Todd Phillips’ follow-up to the mysteriously popular The Hangover, makes the obvious choices work consistently. It takes an obvious two mismatched-strangers-on-a-road-trip movie premise (Robert Downey plays Steve Martin. Zach Galifianakis plays John Candy) and makes it funny and occasionally moving.
Much of what works has to do with the chemistry between its leads. Downey is not just a natural as an uptight professional with a deadpan wit. He’s also a very good supporting actor who sharpens the performers around him. He sharpens Galifianakis, and the two have great fun playing off of one another (at least once, you can see Downey starting to crack up in the background). The comedian is helped by an emotional undercurrent of missing fathers, giving him a chance to do a little more emotion and a little less random chaos generation. A little less.
Due Date draws the cannonball dynamics of male friendship competently. It’s not as strong in this area as Sideways or The Big Lebowski, but it’s better than many films. Downey’s character swings between irritation and a fatherly desire to guide and comfort Galifianakis’ man-child.
Things that Due Date does right: it’s quite funny and doesn’t waste its comic premises, such as the everpresent coffee can with the surprising contents that becomes a recurring third character. The comedy style relies more on clever observation than vulgar disgust. Even the obligatory vomit projection has a touch of tenderness. (One last thing: in two films, Philllps and cinematographer Lawrence Sher have shown a real talent for shooting desert vistas.)
There are a few times that it goes too far, asks us to believe too much. A single comic car crash is one thing. Two comic car crashes is hard to take. And when was the last time you saw an entire crew of attractive stewardesses on a domestic airline flight like it was still 1975? Seriously, whatever happened to attractive stewardesses? Perhaps they should retitle this Planes, Trains and Time Machines.
Whatever mistakes Due Date makes are done with enthusiasm more than cynicism. Either that, or I’m getting old and soft. Take your choice.