By Alan Scherstuhl
By Amy Nicholson
By Charles Taylor
By Stephanie Zacharek
By Brian Feinzimer
By CAROLINA DEL BUSTO
By AMY NICHOLSON
By Amy Nicholson
In interviews to promote Due Date, director Todd Phillips has claimed that the film was intended as a battery-recharging quickie in between the king-making success of The Hangover and the high-pressure assignment of creating a franchise-cementing sequel. The best thing that can be said about Due Date is that it lives up to Phillips’ advance billing: From a breakneck pace that makes its 95-minute running time fly by, to the high-contrast patina of its high-speed Super 35 source stock, to a stoner-esque lack of interest in Chekhovian payoff that’s such a balls-out fuck-you to conventional screenwriting that it’s sort of exciting, Due Date is fast, lazy and out of control in a manner that’s basically commendable.
Which is not to say it’s cheap: Phillips, who also directed Starsky & Hutch, has a thing for extended, highly destructive car chases that, in their relentless momentum and defiance of real-world consequence, almost qualify as surreal. He also likes to hammer home moments of genuine emotion with sweeping crane shots and expensive source cues. Here, the production’s bloat is at odds with the material’s scrappy charm.
Due Date’s best running gag revolves around Ethan’s acting ambitions, and while Galifianakis’ material (written by a team of screenwriters, including Phillips) isn’t always fresh (Ethan’s headshot looks a lot like that of Arrested Development’s Tobias Funke), it’s hard to imagine another contemporary comic getting this kind of mileage out of wearing a Lilith Fair T-shirt and gently ribbing Two and a Half Men. As in The Hangover, Galifianakis’ full commitment to his character’s multivalent strangeness, his ability to rocket back and forth between laughingstock, antagonist and sympathetic hero—sometimes within the space of a single line reading—makes him Due Date’s MVP. And unlike Downey and supporting players Jamie Foxx and Danny McBride, you never get the sense Galifianakis the actor is winking at you from behind the character.
Last month’s soggy-sincere indie It’s Kind of a Funny Story, which cast Galifianakis as a mental patient/ward mentor, was supposed to offer the comedian the chance to capital-A Act, but he’s more convincing as a functional crazy person in Due Date—his performance is the only thing grounding a film that brashly flouts character development and narrative causality. I don’t know how long this can last; I don’t know how many scenes Galifianakis can steal in big-budget mainstream comedies before his act, particularly the self-serious naiveté that won’t quit until his hardened sidekicks and/or opponents submit to it, becomes codified, losing its veneer of spontaneity and thus its appeal. But for now, his chemistry with Phillips is the filmmaker’s greatest asset.
Due Date, like The Hangover before it, barrels through increasingly fantastic set pieces on its way to a major grown-up man rite of passage, but in this case, the journey is divorced from the destination. Downey’s Peter has no need for big life lessons: He’s kind of an asshole, but he’s an asshole who’s fully committed to his marriage and impending fatherhood, and he’s allowed to stay more or less the same asshole throughout his travails. Due Date’s reluctance to impose late-inning moral change may just be a function of its lackadaisical construction, but it’s refreshing nonetheless. Blissfully, each disaster is solely for the sake of slapstick.
Due Date was directed by Todd Phillips; written by Phillips, Alan R. Cohen, Alan Freedland and Adam Sztykiel; and stars Robert Downey Jr., Zach Galifianakis, Michelle Monaghan, Juliette Lewis, Jamie Foxx and Danny McBride. Rated R. Countywide.
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