By SEAN COLLIGAN
While the world sits on pins and needles waiting to see what will become of the (most likely inferior) follow-up to what was arguably 2009’s funniest movie, “The Hangover,” director Todd Phillips had one more offering to share before he shut himself away to tend to his first and only cash cow.
To appease the moviegoers that will make up his audience come 2011 and maintain his new-found “Apatow-an” status in the comedy world until then, Phillips produced “Due Date,” a movie that easily fulfills the director’s aforementioned goals.
Of course, this is also “Due Date’s” crippling flaw; the audience can easily tell that it was thrown together to ride “The Hangover’s” wake. And ride it did; in Phillips’ latest comedy we are shown a plot with an undeniably similar time constraint (“Due Date” just happens to be about a birthing and not a wedding) and almost identical characters (or at least one, which is a big deal considering he makes up about half of the movie) amidst a bland, watered-down road trip scenario.
Well before the second act, just about anyone can tell that they’ve seen this story before. Straight man who sometimes flies off the handle when things don’t work out as planned (Robert Downey Jr.) must join up with weird guy who is obnoxious in every possible way for reasons never to be determined (Zach Galifianakis) to get home for an important, family-related event. Amongst the ups and downs of this whacky adventure, they begin to realize that they can possibly learn from one another.
It isn’t hard to pinpoint the material that “Due Date” shamelessly takes after, most of it being other road comedies like “National Lampoon’s Vacation” and the middle portion of “Tommy Boy” and its ilk that dotted the careers of numerous “Saturday Night Live” heavyweights through the ‘80s and ‘90s.
While those movies stuck with an established (albeit tiresome) formula, “Due Date” doesn’t even manage to get that right. As though the erratic pacing weren’t enough, we see the false resolution happen about four times throughout the movie. This leaves us with little more than a poor man’s “Planes, Trains and Automobiles.”
Usually when this sort of shortcoming on the story’s part occurs, funny performances can be a film’s saving grace. To a certain extent, “Due Date” is no exception; in terms of delivering laughs, Galifianakis’ character is exactly like “The Hangover’s” Alan Garner. The only problem with this is that Galifianakis’ character is exactly like “The Hangover’s” Alan Garner. Seriously, just about everything carried over flawlessly.
From the beyond unusual mannerisms (you don’t want to know how his character puts himself to sleep in this movie, one of the scenes that you actually will remember) to his dark sunglasses, it’s almost identical. He even carries around a young living thing which, granted, is not in a bjorn and of a different species, but still, it creates an image that instantly brings to mind the care Alan showed toward his would-be Carlos before he was returned to his mother.
It’s almost as if, during pre-production, the writers/producers were tossing around the idea of a spin-off movie for Alan’s character (which, thankfully, is not the reality).
Robert Downey Jr. proves an able straight man, proudly utilizing his snark and sarcasm that we’ve seen in, well, just about everything he’s ever been in. But, other than an all-too-brief cameo from the always chuckle-worthy Danny McBride, the performances in “Due Date” are just as unsurprising and lackluster as the story the characters find themselves in.
Given the current dry season for good comedies in theaters and with not much to look forward to in the near future other than the next Adam Sandler vehicle and the newest installment in the “Fockers” series (ugh), you could do worse than spend the money to see “Due Date.”
When it doesn’t lose itself in contrived emotional weight or other such nonsense, it provides a decent bit of gross-out humor worth quoting on your way out of the theater. Other than that, don’t expect more than a would-be “Hangover” clone.