Thursday, November 4, 2010

Film review: 'Due Date' crude, but oddball bromance really works

Robert Downey Jr. and Zach Galifianakis in Due Date.

By John Thomason

In‭ ‬Due Date,‭ ‬Robert Downey Jr.‭ ‬adds a heretofore-absent patina of acting credibility to the sophomoric cinema of Todd Phillips.

He stars as Peter,‭ ‬a harried architect with anger management issues who,‭ ‬thanks to highly improbable conceit aboard an airplane,‭ ‬winds up on a no-fly list,‭ ‬sans wallet,‭ ‬ID and luggage,‭ ‬and is forced to trek cross-country with stranger Ethan‭ (‬Zach Galifianakis‭)‬,‭ ‬the clingy aspiring actor whose actions prompted the onboard national-security crisis.

Combining the road-movie dynamic of Phillips‭’ ‬Road Trip and the gotta-meet-a-deadline anxiety of his‭ ‬Hangover‭ – ‬Peter has to be in Los Angeles for his wife’s C-section by the end of the week‭ – ‬Due Date has all the elements of another overhyped exercise in juvenile frat-boy high jinks from modern cinema’s chief purveyor of them.‭ ‬Indeed,‭ ‬a cameo by Danny McBride as a wheelchair-bound Iraq War veteran is cringe-inducing in its crude farfetchedness,‭ ‬and the characters‭’ ‬inciting incident‭ – ‬a kerfuffle over the use of the word‭ “‬bomb‭” ‬on an airplane‭ – ‬was a lot more relevant a decade ago when it stymied Ben Stiller in‭ ‬Meet the Parents.‭ ‬Reality is further strained when the lead actors emerge relatively unscathed from violent accidents that would have sent Superman six feet under.

That being said,‭ ‬there are many reasons why‭ ‬Due Date is the best film Phillips has ever made,‭ ‬starting with the obvious:‭ ‬It’s his only movie yet that is as funny as it thinks it is.‭ ‬Most of the humor is original,‭ ‬inspired,‭ ‬and appropriately outrageous,‭ ‬from the brutal sucker-punching of an obnoxious child to the only masturbating-dog joke that’s worth your laughter.‭ ‬Downey and Galifianakis‭’ ‬odd-couple chemistry is infectious,‭ ‬sometimes charming and refreshingly erratic,‭ ‬to the point where nearly every action in every scene is a surprise.

There’s also the fact that‭ ‬Due Date is‭ – ‬gasp‭ – ‬the most‭ ‬mature film Phillips has made.‭ ‬Ethan,‭ ‬with his ridiculous perm and portfolio of publicity photos,‭ ‬harbors an ocean of melancholy under his embarrassing Hollywood aspirations.‭ ‬His hurt is rooted in the recent death of his father,‭ ‬whose ashes he carries in a coffee canister and whose funeral in Atlanta brought him on the fateful flight with Peter.‭ ‬The times when Phillips chips away at Ethan’s façade to get to the raw emotion underneath find the director exhibiting rare dramatic poignancy,‭ ‬and it suits him well.

But perhaps the strongest advancement this film has made vis-a-vis Phillips‭’ ‬previous movies is its treatment of women.‭ ‬In Phillips‭’ ‬bromances,‭ ‬women are generally not to be trusted beyond their sexual functionality.‭ ‬It’s still a man’s world in‭ ‬Due Date,‭ ‬with Peter’s wife Sarah‭ (‬Michelle Monaghan‭) ‬seen only when she’s communicating with her husband.‭ ‬But this time,‭ ‬the rampant sexism that has previously turned the vast majority of Phillips‭’ ‬females into bitches,‭ ‬strippers,‭ ‬unfaithful girlfriends and male-neutering domesticators is gone.

And if you need another reason to admire‭ ‬Due Date beyond its surprisingly smart and touching affability,‭ ‬wait until the last scene,‭ ‬which finds Galifianakis appearing on an episode of‭ ‬Two and a Half Men,‭ ‬his longtime inspiration to enter the world of acting.‭ ‬Let’s just say that given Charlie Sheen’s recent drug-induced meltdown,‭ ‬Phillips proves himself to be a shrewd prognosticator of tabloid scandal.

DUE DATE.‭ ‬Director:‭ ‬Todd Phillips.‭ ‬Cast:‭ ‬Robert Downey Jr.,‭ ‬Zach Galifianakis,‭ ‬Michelle Monaghan,‭ ‬Jamie Foxx,‭ ‬Juliette Lewis.‭ ‬Studio:‭ ‬Warner Brothers.‭ ‬Rated:‭ ‬R.‭ ‬Opens:‭ ‬Friday.‭ ‬At area theaters.

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