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Due Date has proven actors, but is still a miscarriage



By Anthony Lauriello     11/11/10 6:00pm

Of all the events and milestones in a lifetime of movie watching, perhaps none is more salient or monumental than one's first R-rated movie. Mine was John Hughes' uproarious buddy-comedy Planes, Trains and Automobiles. Director Todd Phillips' (The Hangover) latest offering, Due Date, is, for all intensive purposes, a remake of this '80s classic, except with a lot more drugs and a few more masturbation jokes. However, despite a few laughs, it fails to live up to its predecessor.The plot of the movie follows the straight-laced and unfortunately named Peter Highman, played by Robert Downey Jr. (Iron Man) and the lovable oddball Ethan Tremblay, played by the poorly groomed Zach Galifianakis (also of The Hangover), as fate and comic mishaps bind them as travel buddies. The two first meet in the Atlanta airport, and, after exchanging some poorly phrased words with an air marshal, Peter reluctantly agrees to hit the road with Ethan to Los Angeles. As the title implies, Peter is expecting the birth of his first son by Caesarean section in several days, which gives the plot its obligatory timeline. Ethan is travelling to Hollywood to make it big as an actor.

Along the way, in addition to racking up incredible amounts of property damage, they encounter a host of ridiculous characters, including a pot-dealing mom, a pair of Mexican border guards and an angry veteran of the Iraq war. Along with the slapstick and high jinks, there are also the mandatory heartfelt moments as Tremblay deals with the recent death of his father and Highman is forced to analyze his own abrasive and mercurial personality. Needless to say, while Peter begins the movie hating Ethan's eccentric behavior, he starts to feel pity and eventually genuine friendship for the scruffy aspiring thespian.

The two popular actors provide solid performances, but nothing exemplary. Galifianakis does a good job of balancing the emotional neediness and ridiculous antics that his character requires, especially when discussing his recently deceased father. Downey also does well, but when compared to his master comedic acting in the Iron Man series and Tropic Thunder, it is hard not to feel a little disappointed. To be fair to the actor, this might have to do more with the lackluster script than his own skill.

In terms of cinematography, the movie could have used more sweeping shots of the pair driving. As a road trip movie, Due Date should have instilled a distinct sense of place in each scene as if the audience were also making a journey. Instead, Phillips spends little time establishing shots and in many cases I felt like I was playing "Where in the World is Carmen San Diego?" trying to guess what state the duo was in. Fortunately, the soundtrack of popular songs fits the film quite well, especially in the driving scenes.

While I enjoyed watching Due Date, I left the theater wondering why the movie was made in the first place. I know Hollywood will always churn out formulaic and derivative films, but Messrs. Phillips, Galifianakis and Downey have created some truly sound and original work the last couple of years. I hope they do not fall into a trap of complacency, making large sums of money on uninspired cinema.

Some of the verbal quips rose above the fray and elicited large chortles, and one scene involving some much-needed corporal punishment caused laughter long after the film had ended. Yet the movie did not come close to realizing the standard of Phillips' The Hangover and worse, it paled in comparison to the original film by Hughes. For those interested in watching the movie, I would recommend waiting until the talented people involved in Due Date do something worthwhile and in the meantime go rent Planes, Trains and Automobiles.

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