Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (February 15, 2011)
With the director and breakout actor of The Hangover on board, could Due Date repeat the success of the 2009 comedy smash? Apparently not. While it actually did okay at the box office, its US take of $100 million paled in comparison with the $277 million raked in by Hangover.
So unlike its predecessor, I guess we’ll get no Due Date 2. Which is pretty much fine with me. While I this one has some entertainment value, it doesn’t exactly soar.
In Atlanta for business, Peter Highman (Robert Downey, Jr.) tries to head home to LA, where he anticipates the imminent birth of his first child. He hits a major snag when he meets Ethan Tremblay (Galifianakis), an aspiring actor headed to Hollywood. Ethan’s lack of self-awareness and social skills causes run-ins between the two of them, and they eventually get booted from their flight.
Their behavior also lands them on the “no-fly list”, so they need to take surface routes to California. Unfortunately for Peter, his bag and his wallet stayed on the flight to LA, so he lacks any way to get home. He actually attempts to steal a rental car, but he instead finds himself Ethan’s guest. This leads to a wild ride across country as Peter races home for his child’s birth – and tries to tolerate the outrageous antics of Ethan along the way.
If that plot synopsis sounds kind of familiar, that’s because Date shares a whole lot of similarities with 1987’s Planes, Trains and Automobiles. It’s not a literal remake, but Date clearly borrows an awful lot from the John Hughes flick.
Though I don’t remember thinking that Planes was quite so contrived. Granted, a film like this inevitably must resort to some outlandish ways to keep the mismatched leads together, so a certain disconnect from reality becomes inevitable. Nonetheless, I think Date stretches credulity more than once or twice; it often just seems ridiculous.
That extends to the nature of its characters, especially in Peter’s ever-changing view of Ethan. He hates him most of the time, but this changes on a dime, often for little logical reason. Sometimes he goes off due to some minor transgression, but then he forgives Ethan major idiocy.
Really, the development of the Peter/Ethan relationship becomes a problem because it makes so little sense. Essentially, Peter bonds with Ethan after the would-be actor rescues him – from a bind than Ethan created! In truth, it feels like Peter comes to love Ethan solely because the movie dictates it, not for any natural reason.
Which gets back to that whole “contrived” thing. Peter’s the only character who shows an arc, but it’s an unbelievable one, and not something that seems to generalize to the real world. At the film’s start, Peter comes across as somewhat uptight, and normally one might expect that he’ll loosen up as he gets to know his more freewheeling travel buddy.
Maybe that’s the case here, but it doesn’t seem that way. Peter’s friends with Ethan by the end of the movie, but he doesn’t really show any indications that he’s learned or grown in any way. He’s just decided that he likes Ethan – end of arc.
As for Ethan himself, he’s exactly the same character at the finish that he was at the start. For all intents and purposes, Galifianakis plays the same role he had in Hangover. Indeed, Ethan is so much like the earlier movie’s Alan that they might as well have been the same parts; Ethan and Alan are both naïve, quirky man-children who bumble through life without the slightest hint of self-awareness.
Playing the same part again means that Galifianakis runs the risk of typecasting, but I must admit he still makes the part work. He was the best thing about Hangover, and he continues to amuse here. Galifianakis and Downey also share pretty good chemistry, so their pairing turns into a positive.
Unfortunately, I can’t get past the movie’s absurdity to really embrace it. I know that’s largely my fault; I know I shouldn’t expect realism from a goofy comedy like this. And I don’t demand perfect logic all – or even most – of the time.
But I’d like something a bit more sensible than what we get. At its best, Due Date provides decent laughs, most of which come from the talents of its lead actors. However, it just becomes awfully stupid at times, and the lack of coherence and consistency make it an erratic piece of entertainment.