Fun fact: Before he became the new king of comedy by directing The Hangover, Todd Phillips made another movie about a lovable group of drug-ingesting young men and their experiences on the road. The film was the 2000 documentary Bittersweet Motel, and the group was Phish. It’s intriguing to speculate about whether hanging with Trey and the boys affected the filmmaker who would go on to create such merry modern milestones as Road Trip (2000), Old School (2003), the aforementioned 2009 megahit and now Due Date. He sure wasn’t producing work of that caliber before the encounter. Maybe a visit to Vermont should become a film-school requirement.
I can’t believe how many reviewers have expressed sentiments to the effect that “it would’ve been too much to expect another Hangover,” implying that Phillips’ latest is both a stylistic departure and a disappointment. First, feel free to expect another Hangover. It’s called The Hangover 2, and it will hit theaters in May. Second, Due Date incorporates so many of that blockbuster’s mannerisms and motifs it’s not funny. Except that it is.
In fact, what we have here (just in time for Thanksgiving) is a calculated cloning of The Hangover and John Hughes’ 1987 classic Planes, Trains and Automobiles. Robert Downey Jr. fills the Steve Martin role. Peter Highman is a tightly wound, no-nonsense architect eager to return home to LA from Atlanta to be with his wife (Michelle Monaghan), who’s scheduled to deliver their first child by C-section. As Roger Ebert wisely observes, “All cross-country trips involving odd couples require deadlines.”
The odd half of the couple is Ethan Tremblay, stoner, aspiring thespian and doting owner of a French bulldog. For all practical purposes, Zach Galifianakis plays the same character that launched him to fame in The Hangover and, once again, elevates cluelessness to an art form. Tremblay’s on his way to Hollywood in search of stardom. However, a few ill-chosen words he shares with Highman on the plane (“bomb” and “terrorist,” to be precise) get the pair thrown off and put on the no-fly list.
His wallet and luggage apparently confiscated by TSA agents, Highman has to accept when Tremblay offers him a ride to Los Angeles in his rented car, promising to get him there for the big day. That means punishing hours of nonstop driving, so it’s funny when, mere moments into the trip, Tremblay makes a pit stop to buy pot from his dealer (Juliette Lewis), casually samples various blends and winds up doing his impression of Brando from the opening scene of The Godfather.
The pair’s odyssey is an amusing amalgam of non sequiturs, naughtiness and stuff that’s just plain nuts. Many of the scenes that work best could almost have been outtakes from The Hangover: Once again a police vehicle is stolen. Once again, Galifianakis offers inappropriate tutelage in techniques of self-pleasuring. And, once again, his character’s combination of man-child sincerity and staggering dimness is played for laughs, to great effect. In The Hangover, he asked a Caesars Palace clerk if the Roman really once resided there. In Due Date, he stares into the Grand Canyon and insists that he “read somewhere that it’s manmade.”
There’s very little to complain about here, if you ask me. Phillips has a field day turning the buddy-film formula inside out. Sure, the two men eventually bond, but not before Downey’s been seriously injured in a car wreck (guess who was driving) and shot twice — once by Galifianakis. And forget about character development and life lessons: The film is refreshingly free of those traditional devices. Nobody learns anything in Due Date.
The audience, on the other hand, leaves with proof positive that Phillips and Galifianakis continue to compose Hollywood’s most cutting-edge comic partnership.