With Robert Downey, Jr., Zach Galifianakis, Michelle Monaghan, Jamie Foxx and Juliette Lewis. Directed by Todd Phillips. Rated R for language, drug use and sexual content. 95 minutes.
We’ve seen the kind of movie that DUE DATE is before, under many different titles. It might be “Planes, Trains And Automobiles” or it might be “Get Him To The Greek,” but it’s a buddy road movie in which a straight, uptight character and a wild and inappropriate character are forced to travel together. Somehow, up until now, this story has been told without the need to show a masturbating dog, but director Todd Phillips, having pushed the bar for comedy ever lower with “The Hangover,” is ready to go where even the Farrelly Brothers and Judd Apatow never dared.
Our tightly-wound character is Peter Highman (Robert Downey, Jr.), an architect returning to Los Angeles from Atlanta for the birth of his first child. At the airport, the door of his private car is ripped off by the arrival of Ethan Tremblay (Zach Galifianakis), heading west to pursue an acting career. In short, order Ethan manages to get both himself and Peter thrown off the plane and put on the “no fly” list. Since Peter’s wallet is presumably still on the plane, he is forced to travel with Ethan who promises to get him home in time. However, first they have to stop off to an Alabama drug dealer (Juliette Lewis) for some marijuana. It’s okay – it’s for his glaucoma.
Relating their various misadventures along the way is beside the point. The premise involves Ethan constantly saying and doing outrageous things, and for Peter to bear the punishment for them. In one scene he is brutally beaten by an Iraqi war veteran in a wheelchair. In another he is arrested by Mexican border authorities (Ethan thought it was a Texaco station). And when Ethan spends most of his ready cash on drugs, they are forced to sleep in the car, where Ethan explains he needs to engage in some self-pleasure in order to go to sleep as, apparently, does his dog. Director Phillips spares us close ups of Ethan at work, but he makes sure we see the dog.
Quite apart from the fact that none of the proceedings are funny, it’s a story about how Peter is abused over and over again by Ethan, a man totally lacking in self-control or even self-awareness, and yet they bond as friends by the end of the story. You don’t believe it for a minute. In fact if Peter had taken a crowbar to Ethan’s skull, it would have been a much more satisfying story.
Beyond the script the problem is that this is essentially a vehicle for this year’s It Boy, Galifianakis. This is his fourth release this year (after “Youth In Revolt,” “Dinner For Schmucks,” and “It’s Kind Of A Funny Story,” not to mention the HBO series “Bored To Death”) and after this one can only hope his fifteen minutes of fame are up. Here, in particular, he is an annoying and grating presence, even tossing off an anti-semitic gibe that was so out-of-place that a largely supportive preview audience gasped.
“Due Date” joins “Furry Vengeance” and “I’m Still Here” on the list of the year’s worst movies. Which one is the worst of all will be a matter of, well, bad taste.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books, the most recent being I’ll Have What She’s Having: Behind The Scenes Of The Great Romantic Comedies. He teaches film at Suffolk University and lives in Somerville.