Monday, November 22, 2010

DUE DATE Past Its Expiration?

DUE DATE Review:

- Due Date is a reasonably funny movie, but it's also one of those comedies that seems to have no real reason for existing. From moment one, it's clear that the premise of Due Date is simply that some guys sat in a room and thought "hey, wouldn't it be funny if Robert Downey Jr. and Zack Galifianakis were in a wacky comedy together?" Fine, cool, but that's not how great movies are made. That's marketing, not movie-making, and it's not enough to justify a movie's existence. Casting should serve the characters in the script, not the other way around. And that makes Due Date a movie with some funny gags, but not much else. It's mildly entertaining, but ultimately forgettable.

From director Todd Phillips of The Hangover fame, Due Date feels like a stripped down version of that movie - ie, same basic sensibilities, but lacking the density of jokes or the commitment to outrageousness of last year's huge comedy hit. Due Date's plot is basically all there in the trailers - a yuppie asshole type (RDJ) is trying to get home from a business trip in time to be there as his wife gives birth to their first child. RDJ runs into a wacky, stoner, would-be-Hollywood actor (Galafianakis), who through a wacky series of misunderstandings, gets the both of them kicked off of their flight, sans luggage, and put on the no-fly list. Stranded without a wallet or car, RDJ has no choice but to accept a ride from the overzealously friendly yet completely weird Galifianakis. And so the odd couple's road trip trek to California begins.

There are some pretty good jokes to be found in Due Date, and the movie benefits hugely from the natural talents of its two main stars. Both are playing completely to type, which on the plus side, means that both slip quite comfortably into their roles - roles that each could probably pull off in their sleep. Suffice it to say, the movie gets a substantial lift from the fact that its stars are so naturally funny and charismatic - and yes, they do have a pretty good chemistry together.

That said, it's a pairing we've seen countless times before. Ever since the days that Dennis the Menace plagued poor Mr. Wilson, we've seen the reckless troublemaker and uptight jerk as onscreen duo. To that end, a lot of Due Date feels like something you've seen a thousand times before - from The Cable Guy to You, Me, and Dupree (shudder). That's true on the character level, and it's true on the joke level as well. I had to stifle a groan when, early on in the movie, it's revealed that Galifianakis' character is carrying around a coffee can filled with his deceased dad's ashes. As soon as this plot point was introduced, you knew exactly what shananigans would ensue, and the movie goes exactly down the various roads that you'd predict. There are very few surprises, and very few moments that feel genuinely fresh and inspired. It's funny, because the one subplot that promises to take the movie down a pretty dark and surprising path - involving Jamie Foxx as an old boyfriend of RDJ's wife - turns out to be a red herring and basically goes nowhere, instead getting dropped altogether two-thirds of the way through the movie.

Meanwhile, some of the running gags have promise, but never go as far as you'd want them to. A joke about Galifianakis' infatuation with the TV show Two and a Half Men could have served as a scathing satire of the show or its stars. Instead, it's just sort of there, and you're not even sure if the movie is mocking the show when all is said and done. A lot of the jokes seem similarly half-hearted, or else just run out of steam as the movie chugs along. It might have helped if there was any real meat to the two main characters, but again, RDJ is basically playing a jerkier, yet slightly more grounded, version of Tony Stark / RDJ, and Galifianakis is playing less a character and more a walking collection of one-note gags.

Look, at the end of the day - and despite my mostly harsh words to this point - I was entertained by Due Date and chuckled a bunch of times throughout. There are enough jokes that work that it's hard to feel too negative about the movie. There was even a cameo by Danny McBride that saw the awesomely hilarious comedic actor in fine form. And yet, I'd be hard pressed to remember a lot of the film's jokes right now with any specificity. It's all pretty hollow, empty, and paint-by numbers, and I know that these guys can do better.

My Grade: B-

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