I recently read an article in the New York Daily News, in which Due Date director Todd Phillips divulges that the secret ingredient to making a great comedy is danger, and by danger he means the element of surprise. Anyone who's watched his smash hit The Hangover can agree with that statement, but when it comes to Phillips' most recent film, it would be fair to say he played it safe, rather than dangerous. Sure, cars are flipped and stolen, and the odd-couple duo of Robert Downey, Jr. and Zach Galifianakis face danger in the most physical sense of the word, but the storyline and comedy are anything but dangerous.
In Due Date, Peter (Downey, Jr.) is flying from Atlanta back to Los Angeles in order to make it home in time for the birth of his first child. In an abrupt curbside meeting at the airport, Peter encounters Ethan (Galifianakis), an aspiring actor on his way to Hollywood with his French bulldog, Sonny, and a coffee can containing his father's ashes. The two are kicked off the plane and placed on the no-fly list after a heated disturbance before take off. With no money or ID, Peter is forced to ride cross-country with his polar opposite.
I'm not saying that Due Date doesn't push boundaries and surprise the audience. One of the most shockingly funny scenes in the film takes place in Ethan's pot dealer's (Juliette Lewis) living room while Peter watches her kids - and then punches the eight-year-old boy in the gut. Later on, Peter tells Ethan off and spits in Sonny's face, which is basically what about half the audience would love to do to the two by this point in the story. But in the end, many of the film's gags come off like 2010 reprises of Trains, Planes and Automobiles' most memorable scenes.
Galifianakis brings the similar man-boy comedic charm to this role as he did in The Hangover, only this time inserts a dog in place of a baby as his prop. Nothing Ethan did ever seemed that innovative, though Galifianakies was funny in his usual way. After seeing his potential in It's Kind of a Funny Story, I'm left wanting more from him than this script had to offer. Downey, Jr. was great, as usual, even when he's playing a total a-hole. He brings out Peter's struggles between being a jerk and doing the right thing.
In a comedy like Due Date, masturbation jokes and one of the main characters getting the crap kicked out of him by a paralyzed veteran are to be expected. Phillips played it safe with Due Date, but with more character development and risks taken with the jokes. It could have been a far better movie.
Starring Robert Downey, Jr. and Zach Galifianakis
Directed by Todd Phillips