Monday, 22 November 2010

Due Date

The current IMDB rating of Due Date (7.1), when compared with that of its oddly hailed predecessor, The Hangover (7.9) may indicate a slip in public affection towards crass, blokey American comedies. A shame, as it has an ace up its sleeve in the form of Robert Downey Jr, bringing his entertainingly twitchy persona to bear on a film that is beneath him. He also has the ability to make his somewhat unpleasant character halfway watchable, something which counts very much in Due Date's favour; after all, The Hangover also featured a dearth of likeable characters but, crucially, there was no A-list baggage to pull us out of the rut.

So, while Due Date is no masterpiece, it is a considerable improvement on the mean-spirited adolescent mindset of The Hangover, benefiting not only from Downey Jr's star chops but his obvious tendency to get co-stars on their A-game. He plays highly strung (and borderline misanthropic) businessman Peter Highman, who, after an altercation with aspiring actor Ethan Tremblay (Zach Galifianakis) on his plane back to Los Angeles, finds himself stranded. He needs to return home in time for the birth of his child, Michelle Monaghan making such a non-existent appearance that you could not blink and still miss her.

Lucky then that Tremblay has also vacated the plane and is willing to offer Highman a lift to 'Hollywood' as he naively refers to it in one of the film's more effectively subtle gags. Predictability clearly doesn't count in Due Date's favour but once Highman and Tremblay hit the road, it comes to enjoy a (largely) easy, laid back rhythm, riffing on the likes of Planes, Trains and Automobiles and Midnight Run. It doesn't come close to those landmarks but the road movie structure nonetheless remains an effective device, and a more emotionally engaging one than the tiresomely juvenile, strung together set-pieces of The Hangover.

Consequently, the string of mishaps thrown in the characters' way carry more of a rib-tickling urgency than an ostentatious nastiness, although certain scenes come close (a dual wanking gag and a needlessly elaborate car crash go nowhere, indiscriminately placed to draw the juvenile audience). We're also allowed to grow into the characters properly over the course of their journey; Downey Jr, in spite of the fact he spits on a dog at one point, invites a degree of empathy in his frustration while Galifianakis is surprisingly endearing in forging a character more plausible than his similarly styled idiot in The Hangover.

It also allows for a richer palate of pratfalls and verbal gags (Tremblay's Texaco/Mexico confusion is a screamer, as is Highman sucker punching the child of one of Tremblay's dope suppliers played by a game Juliette Lewis). And while director Todd Phillips can't entirely decide whether to pull in the direction of his earlier hit or let the journey speak for itself, ultimately he shows both more technical flair (in the form of some lovely on-the-road photography) and a surprising poignancy in a running theme about wanting to see the Grand Canyon. In the end, we can take or leave the stoner gags and the 12 year old snickering at a key character's mincing gait, but it's the Downey Jr/Galifianakis chemistry that we remember, making likeable two deeply unlikeable fools

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