There are road trips taken with strangers and then there are road trips taken with strangers who happen to be Zach Galifianakis. If given the chance, I’d probably pick the first option, but I would send a friend with Zach so I could hear the hilarious details later on.
Peter Highman (Robert Downey Jr.) is a nervous father-to-be trying to get to his wife in time for the birth of their first child when Ethan Tremblay (Zach Galifianakis), an aspiring actor, comes crashing into his life. After an incident involving switched baggage, drug paraphernalia and an air marshal, both men are put on the no-fly list and Peter has no other option but to drive cross country with Ethan – or, more accurately, with Ethan, his bulldog Sunny, and the remains of Ethan’s father kept conveniently in a coffee can. Hilarity ensues.
And I do mean hilarity. Ethan is an optimistic, fun-loving guy who claims to have survived the last 23 years on sheer luck. This becomes easier to believe as their trip progresses and Ethan, with no effort on his own part, comes ever closer to killing his travel companion. It does not become easier to believe that Galifianakis is 23 years old. And while Downey mostly plays straight man to Galifianakis’ particular brand of crazy, he is not just there to feed him jokes. Peter’s got his own issues, including a serious anger management problem, making him the kind of anti-hero that is easy to root against. No matter what hijinks Ethan got the pair of them into, I didn’t feel bad for Peter; I cheered against him. It’s more fun that way.
Due Date is not the kind of movie that demands repeated viewings. There are a lot of cheap jokes, most of which rely on shock value and would probably feel stale the second time around. There are also a lot that are just not funny. Thankfully, not all of the best jokes were featured in the trailer, and there are plenty of other laugh-out-loud moments throughout. Downey does a great job portraying an extraordinary amount of sarcasm and condescension and Galifianakis never fails to deliver the laughs. He has a perm, for crying out loud.
Right below the slap-stick surface, there is the vaguest inkling of a question about fatherhood and what it really means; Peter doesn’t know his father, but Ethan keeps his close, talking about his dad’s life and fondly patting the coffee can where his remains now reside. But there wasn’t really time to embrace that theme; there were one-liners to deliver and sardonic comments to be returned! There were also miles and miles to cover, with most of the time spent in the car accompanied by great music. Due Date’s soundtrack, including tracks from Sam and Dave, Neil Young and Wolfmother, would be a great addition to any road trip, with or without Galifianakis.
Due Date is episodic, hopping along from one far-fetched situation to the next. The problem is not that the events are unrealistic; suspending disbelief is part of the cinema experience. No, the problem is that there is nothing to make the audience care whether or not Peter gets home in time for his wife’s cesarean. We see nothing of their relationship to make us worry about its success; come to think of it, there’s no real justification for why Peter is so far from home so close to the scheduled birth. The pregnant wife seems more like a plot device, there to provide an arbitrary deadline to this impromptu road trip, than a real character.
Based on the trailer, I predicted Due Date to be a slightly less funny version of The Hangover, and I can honestly say that the movie was exactly what I expected. Same director, same lead actor and same basic premise: weird guy makes regular road trip into crazy adventure. I had been wondering how many more jokes there could be on the subject, but truthfully, there were a lot of good ones. If you enjoyed The Hangover, then you’ll like Due Date. If you didn’t enjoy The Hangover, then I don’t understand your sense of humor.
There are two possible ways to look at this spin-off that isn’t supposed to be a spin-off. Either Galifianakis has been typecast as the quirky, socially inept travel partner, or “road trips with Galifianakis” has become its own comedic sub-genre on par with “Seth Rogen stoner flicks” and other strangely specific recurrent roles. Either way, Due Date is funny. It doesn’t demand a watch, but it is worth one.