Tuesday, December 28, 2010

"DUE DATE" (2010) Review




”DUE DATE” (2010) Review

I have always been a fan of road trip movies. This come from a love of long-distance traveling that I managed to acquire over the years. Some of my favorite movies have featured road trips - ”IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT”, ”SMOKEY AND THE BANDIT”, ”MIDNIGHT RUN” and even ”PLANES, TRAINS, AND AUTOMOBILES”. Because of this, I looked forward to seeing ”DUE DATE”, Todd Phillips’ new movie that starred Robert Downey Jr. and Zach Galifianakis.

Also written by Phillips, along with Alan R. Cohen, Alan Freedland, and Adam Sztykiel; ”DUE DATE” told the story of an architect named Peter Highman trying to get home from Atlanta to Los Angeles to be present at the birth of his first child, a scheduled C-section, with his wife, Sarah. At the Atlanta airport, Peter has an encounter with an aspiring actor named Ethan Tremblay. After inadvertently using the words terrorist and bomb during a quarrel with Ethan, Peter is shot by an air marshal with a rubber bullet. Both are forced off the plane before take-off. And after being questioned by airport security, Peter discovers that he has been placed on the No Fly List and will have to find another way to get to California. After realizing that he had left his wallet on the plane, Peter reluctantly agrees to travel with Ethan all the way to Los Angeles.

At first, it occurred to me that ”DUE DATE” was not as . . . hilarious as two of his other well-known films, 2003’s ”STARSKY AND HUTCH” and last year’s ”THE HANGOVER”. By the time the movie ended, I realized why. ”DUE DATE” strongly reminded me of the 1987 comedy, ”PLANES, TRAINS AND AUTOMOBILES”. In fact, it could easily be considered a remake of the John Hughes film. Both movies are basically comedic road trips about two different men – an uptight professional desperately trying to get home for a certain reason who is forced to travel with a flaky and accident-prone, yet desperately lonely man for financial reasons. There were differences. In the 1987 film, Steve Martin and John Candy traveled from New York to Chicago, spending most of their journey throughout the Midwest. In this film, Downey Jr. and Galifianakis traveled through the Deep South, from Atlanta to Los Angeles. This movie focused a lot of their journey in Texas – especially in the second half. But if I must be honest, the differences are minor in compare to the similarities. Let us just say that ”DUE DATE” is definitely a remake of Hughes’ film.

Todd Phillips did an excellent job with his cast. The supporting characters turned out to be interesting. Juliette Lewis, who had worked with Phillips in ”STARSKY AND HUTCH”, portrayed a flaky marijuana dealer in Birmingham, Alabama, from whom Ethan (Galifianakis) wanted to purchase some weed. This sequence provided the funniest moment in the movie – an encounter between a very annoyed Peter (Downey Jr.) and the dealer’s bratty kids, which ended up with a surprising punch to the gut. Another interesting supporting performance came from Danny McBride (who worked with Downey Jr. in ”TROPIC THUNDER”), who portrayed an intimidating and physically disabled Western Union employee they had encountered. The movie also featured a wild and funny encounter with two Mexican border patrol cops who arrest Peter for possession of marijuana (thanks to a fleeing Ethan). But the funniest supporting performance came from Jamie Foxx (Downey Jr.’s co-star from 2009’s ”THE SOLOIST”), who rediscovered his comic roots by portraying Peter’s oldest friend from college, now living in Dallas. What made Foxx’s performance rather funny was that his character seemed like a very together man . . . who harbored a slight obsession toward Peter’s wife (Michelle Monaghan), whom he had dated in college. But the real stars of the movie were Robert Downey Jr. and Zach Galifianakis. Phillips was very lucky that the pair managed to generate such a strong screen chemistry. They did an awesome job in portraying two rather emotionally disturbed, yet different men who found themselves forming a strong bond during the 2,200 miles journey. Downey Jr.’s sharp-tongue, yet uptight character balanced very well with Galifianakis’ emotionally immature dweeb.

Did I have any problems with ”DUE DATE”? Well . . . yes. Like ”PLANES, TRAINS AND AUTO”, it was a strong comedy with some equally strong angst moments. And like the 1987 movie, those angst moments felt very forced. I believe that was due to Galifianakis’ performance. Mind you, there was nothing wrong with his acting, but it felt rather forced. And another scene I had trouble with was the encounter between the two travelers and the Western Union employee. That particular scene started out funny. But when McBride revealed his character to be a disabled Iraqi War veteran, the laughs dried up. The situation grew worse when McBride’s character began beating upon Downey Jr.’s sarcastic character. I did not know whether or not to take this scene seriously. Instead, I winced through it all.

It is possible that many moviegoers might not take this movie seriously, due to its strong resemblance to ”PLANES, TRAINS AND AUTOMOBILES”. Roger Ebert went as far as to compare it unfavorably to the 1987 film. Personally, I have decided to regard ”DUE DATE” as a remake. Is it a good remake? Yes. In fact, not only does the 2010 film not only share similar strengths with Hughes’ film, but also similar flaws. But it is still a first-rate movie, even if I would never regard it as a personal favorite of mine.

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