Let’s just pretend for a moment that Planes, Trains and Automobiles never happened.
So here we are, watching Due Date, starring Robert Downey Jr. and Zach Galifianakis and directed by Todd Phillips (The Hangover). We begin with a Peter (RDJ), a buttoned-up, well-off architect who must get across the country in time to see his first child being born. He arrives at the airport and first encounters portly, hippie-ish Ethan (Galifianakis) after a incident involving their two cars. Peter notices Ethan’s rather odd baggage, but continues on, confident that he’ll never see Ethan again.
Now we’re on the airplane. Peter is resting in his seat when who should walk in but Ethan, he of the large belly and borderline-insane banter. After a rather over-the-top misunderstanding, the two men get kicked off the plane. Peter then arrives at the rental car lot, only to discover (just as the Avis shuttle bus drives away) that he’s lost his wallet. Up drives Ethan– he’s got a car, and he offers Peter a ride. Peter knows he shouldn’t accept, but he realizes the alternative is that he won’t get to LA, so he hops in for what’s sure to be an interesting road trip.
There. That sounds like a pretty funny premise for a movie, no?
The trouble is, John Hughes did make Planes, Trains and Automobiles. And he did that exact story just about as well as it could be done. Steve Martin and John Candy’s Neal Page and Del Griffith are two of the most iconic characters Hughes ever created (2nd and 3rd only to Ferris Bueller, perhaps?)
But Due Date doesn’t only suffer because of the obvious comparisons to Planes (or even because it’s the much-ballyhooed follow up to Phillips’ hilarious The Hangover from last summer). It suffers because the screenwriters (at last check, there were at least four of them, not counting all the ad-libbing that Galifianakis did) couldn’t decide what kind of film they were making.
There are parts of it that are very funny and very entertaining (mostly involving the slew of ‘cameo’ appearances, including Danny McBride, Juliette Lewis, and Jamie Foxx). There are parts of it that are silly, sophomoric, and just plain ol’ stupid (Ethan’s pre-sleep ‘ritual’ and the dog’s copy-catting). There are parts that are more dark and violent than they needed to be (Peter socking a child, and the ten minutes that begin with the Grand Canyon scene), and unfortunately most of it is so unbelievable (the fact that they survived the car crash, for example) that Due Date will leave you scratching your head more than it will leave you laughing.
We know that RDJ and Galifianakis both have heaps of talent, and they don’t disprove that here, but I can’t help thinking what they could have done with fresher material.
Over the course of its 100 minutes, Due Date references Forrest Gump, The Godfather, and Two and a Half Men (the last of which earns some of the biggest laughs of the movie). It’s the most obvious reference, though, that’s the problem here.
Fortunately it’s been 23 years since Planes, Trains & Automobiles, so the same people who didn’t know there was a first Wall Street, may actually be just fine with Due Date. The rest of us may feel a little like our hand is stuck between two pillows.