Comedic misstep?  If there’s one thing we know about films based around a road trip, is they’re a dime a dozen. It seems like every year, one will pop-up and either hit or miss, but does so with some sort of buzz.  History has proven this as we have seen such classics like “The Blues Brothers,” “Planes, Trains and Automobiles,” “National Lampoon’s Vacation” rush theaters in the 80’s while “Dumb and Dumber,” “Tommy Boy” and “Kingpin” ruled the box office in the 90’s. And even in the past 10 years, we have watched “Little Miss Sunshine,” “Sideways,” and the appropriately titled “Road Trip” come and go.  That’s only naming some of the nearly 40 films in or around a road trip over the past 30 years. So, it goes without saying we have a lot to compare any new film to, which is why I felt “Due Date” was not only going to be great, but fall in line with the other films from this unheralded genre in Hollywood. Unfortunately, that just wasn’t the case leaving me wondering if all this success has already gone to director Todd Phillips head.

The story here follows…Peter Highman (Robert Downey) while he attempts to get home to see the birth of his first child. But, before he ever gets on the plane from Atlanta to L.A., the door from his ride gets ripped off and his bag accidently gets switched with Ethan Tremblay (Zach Galifianakis), the passenger in the car that had hit his. Next thing he knew, the bag he thought was his was getting confiscated for containing drugs. Now knowing his bag was switched, he boarded the plane and as luck would have it, the man he switched bags with was on the same flight. After a brief argument between the two in which they each voiced words like terrorist and bomb, a Federal Air Marshall takes action and removes them both from the plane. The result landed each of them on the ‘no-fly’ list, but for Peter, that was just the beginning to the frustration that was about to commence as he realized he also left his wallet on the plane. It was then Ethan pulled up in a rental car offering him a ride to L.A. Reluctantly, Peter agrees and the two embark on a road trip like no other; one filled with plenty of ups and downs all resulting in a bittersweet conclusion that might have you “crying uncle.”

Who was in it? Even after seeing “Due Date,” I can’t get on board with director Todd Phillips casting of Robert Downey Jr. I mean, he’s decent in this film, but I couldn’t help but think it would have been better with a truly funny guy like Will Ferrell. Replace Downey Jr. with Ferrell and I might have a completely different take on this film, because the fact of the matter is, Zach Galifianakis was unable to carry his weight here. Maybe he was given too many lines, but this much time against a veteran like Downey Jr. overwhelmed him, big time. I think he wasn’t ready for this much exposure in a film, as his “act” or “shtick” is better served with a group of fellow comedians. Maybe down the road it will be different, but his jokes never hit as much as they could have, no thanks to a script that was marginal at best. Even more so than that, was the odd mix of he and Downey Jr., as I could really never buy into their pairing. The chemistry wasn’t terrible, but it wasn’t all that great either which in this case was detrimental to the mediocre story they were acting in.

Lackluster storytelling – Most people will think I’m crazy when I say a story matters to comedies, but when you have an odd mix of talent like in “Due Date,” it’s crucial. And after seeing this film now, I can’t help but think this project was in the back pocket of director Todd Philips, as it just felt like it was thrown together quickly without much thought. You know, like he had this idea for awhile, but didn’t have the money or the right cast to do it. So, after the extreme success of “The Hangover,” he had both the money and newfound trust from a litany of fans that couldn’t wait for what was next from the young director. So, why not do it, when the sequel to “The Hangover” is not due out till 2011? I just wish he would have taken a little more time with it, as you could easily see all the holes within the script. That’s too bad, because the action and special effects were technically sound, showing that even with a story as whacky as this; Phillips had the potential to do even more. Instead, you got a film spread too thin with humor, unfortunately leaving the audience with very little to take home and recite to their friends.

Bottom Line – Knowing what director Todd Phillips is capable of, in a weird way, kept you from enjoying “Due Date” for what it was.  And I think when Phillips looks back on it; he will see he let one get away as it just could have been a lot better overall. So, while it was entertaining in parts, it simply didn’t do enough to keep it above average in the end.  

C

For more movie reviews by Marcus, click here