There’s a candy that used to advertise itself as “two great tastes that taste great together.” That’s often the case with food. Sometimes, the two don’t automatically seem to go together, like pretzels and chocolate. But the creation of chocolate-covered pretzels makes the two individual great snacks even better as a combo. Of course, not every combination is a good idea. For instance, an orange and a liquorish stick wouldn’t be good at all. Leaving the realm of food, fire and gasoline shouldn’t mix either; except under controlled circumstances. When the two are brought together in an automobile engine, it produces something that is nearly magical. The same can be said for this week’s movie, “Due Date,” that mixes two very different characters, forces them into various out-of-control situations, and produces something that’s nearly magical.
Peter Highman (Robert Downey, Jr.) is an architect on business in Atlanta whose wife Sarah (Michelle Monaghan) is about to have their first baby. Peter needs to get back to Los Angeles by Friday for the scheduled C-section. When he arrives at the airport he encounters Ethan Tremblay (Zach Galifianakis), a wanna-be actor whose constant companion is a small dog named Sonny and who carries the ashes of his recently deceased father in a coffee can. The pair is on the same plane to Los Angeles, where Ethan plans to get into TV, when Peter begins sending a text message to his wife as the cabin crew makes the announcement to turn off all electronic devices. Ethan, trying to get Peter to shut down his smart phone, mentions how terrorists use cell phones to set off bombs which eventually leads to a plainclothes flight marshal shooting Peter in the chest with a rubber bullet. Both men are thrown off the plane and put on no-fly lists. With Peter’s wallet still in the plane’s seat-back pocket he has no money, credit cards or ID to rent a car; however, Ethan pulls up in his rental and offers to give Peter a ride. Against his better judgment, and with no other options, Peter reluctantly agrees to join Ethan, his dog and his father’s ashes on the long trip to the west coast.
While Zach Galifianakis is the comedic engine of “Due Date,” Robert Downey, Jr. is the fuel. Downey’s low-key, slow-burn approach to Peter makes the film a waiting game: Waiting for Peter to blow his top and throttle Ethan. It’s this tension, this anticipation that makes “Due Date” work most of the time. I say “most of the time” because there are some stretches as dull as a long car ride and as unnecessary as a side trip to see the world’s largest ball of yarn.
Downey’s character has a world-weary look that is never fully explained. We know he’s married, an architect, expecting his first child and his dad left his family when Peter was very young, but little else. Ethan on the other hand is a never-ending fountain of TMI; including his favorite color being green, he has glaucoma (which he treats with large amounts of marijuana), the very private act he (and sometimes Sonny) does prior to going to sleep and losing his virginity at the age of nine. He’s also obsessed with the TV show Two and a Half Men for which he runs a fan website. The website mentioned in the movie, www.itsrainingtwoandahalfmen.com, actually exists and has a couple of clips from the show along with various links for the movie’s website and a Facebook page for Ethan Tremblay. It’s an odd obsession for an odd character.
This kind of person has been Galifianakis’ bread and butter in the movies. The simpleton, say-anything, inappropriate moron has graced several comedies over the last few years including “The Hangover,” “Dinner for Schmucks” and, in a slightly toned down version, “It’s Kind of a Funny Story.” His teddy bear exterior hides his hair-trigger weirdness. In “Due Date,” Galifianakis is somewhat grating at times. He swings wildly from cute odd ball to total maniac in a matter of seconds. These wild swings would make most people beat him to death and dump his corpse on the side of the road; but, for some reason, Downey’s character never quite reaches that breaking point. That, and a couple of truly over-the-top incidents in the movie’s last half, stretches the film’s credibility somewhat.
“Due Date” is rated R for language, drug use and sexual content. Pot is smoked frequently in the film to “treat Ethan’s glaucoma.” The sexual content is limited to one instance and involves self-pleasuring. Foul language is common throughout the film.
“Due Date” is a pretty good movie. There are some laughs and some tender moments as well. There are also some rather dull patches and head-scratching events that bring the film down a bit. Still, there are much worse ways to spend a couple of hours at the movies.
“Due Date” gets four guitars out of five.
As Christmas approaches, so do more, big movie releases. This week, a romantic comedy with a great cast, a sci-fi sequel 26 years after the original and a CG pic-a-nic basket stealing bear all want to make your season merry and bright. Vote for the next movie I review.
How Do You Know—Reese Witherspoon, Owen Wilson, Paul Rudd and Jack Nicholson star in the latest comedy from writer/director James L. Brooks.
Tron: Legacy—A tech-savvy young man finds himself pulled into the dangerous digital world where his father has been trapped for 20 years.
Yogi Bear—The classic cartoon character must prove he really is "smarter than the average bear" to save Jellystone Park from closing forever.
Stan’s Choice—Stan sees and reviews and movie currently in theatres.
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