Here's the link to the published version of my review in my column at The Richmond Examiner:
Due Date (2010)
"Due Date," the new comedy from director Todd Phillips, is a film that is trying to be like the John Hughes classic "Planes, Trains, and Automobiles." Perhaps it's trying a little too hard what with nearly the exact same set up and only a few minor changes. It's certainly not a bad aspiration to try to live up to, but "Due Date" is lacking a few essential ingredients to make it work nearly as well.
The story revolves around Peter Highman (Robert Downey Jr.) who is trying to get home to Los Angeles from Atlanta in time to see his wife, Sarah (Michelle Monaghan), give birth to their baby. Before his plane can even take off, he gets into a short, heated conversation with Ethan (Zach Galifianakis), a man headed to Hollywood in hopes of becoming an actor who has been annoying him constantly since arriving at the airport. Their conversation, which involves the words "terrorists" and "bombs," causes them both to be removed from the plane and banned from flying.
With his sudden removal from the plane, Peter is left without his luggage, wallet, and any way of getting to his wife. Since they are both going to L.A., Ethan offers him a ride. After much hesitation, Peter accepts and so begins a cross-country trip that pairs two unlikely traveling companions which, of course, is not going to be as simple as it seems.
Right away, most people are reminded of Steve Martin and John Candy forced together for their own road trip to get back to their families, so the story here is nothing new. However, the fundamental difference lies in the screenplay co-written by Phillips and three others. They attempt to go for that same mix of comedy and drama, but it seems as though they were trying to make it mostly a comedy.
From that angle, it doesn't work all that well because there aren't nearly enough laughs to keep it going. The writers try to put some good gags in there, but nothing really garners more than a smirk. Now, granted, I thought the same of Phillips's previous film, "The Hangover," which many people found to be hilarious, so some people may enjoy this as well, but it doesn't seem to be receiving much praise at all thus far.
The problem is that the jokes are mostly one note. Ethan is supposed to be a very annoying character, and the writers just seem to be exploiting this over and over, so it never really comes as a surprise when he does something irritating or just plain dumb. Luckily, the film only hits one very low point which involves having to watch a dog pleasure himself....right after Ethan has tried to pleasure himself. For the most part, the jokes aren't terrible, or ones that make you groan at how bad they are, but they do mostly fall flat nonetheless.
Another one of those essential ingredients that's missing is heart, or emotional connection with the characters. In Hughes's film, the John Candy character did come off as a little annoying, but thanks to some fantastic writing and a wonderful performance, we cared about him a lot. The characters in "Due Date," while performed satisfactorily, never give us any reason to sympathize with them. Peter is an ass and Ethan is simply annoying. What's there to like about either of them?
To be fair, the film does have its share of good parts. There's an interesting emotional subplot about how Ethan's father just died that works well for his character. On the flip side of that, there's a fun escape/chase scene near the end of the film that shows the dedication of one of the characters to the other. If the story had had more interesting elements like these, it might have worked on the whole.
While "Planes, Trains, and Automobiles" wasn't necessarily a "laugh out loud" kind of film, it had the kind of humor that really hit home at the heart and made you smile while allowing you to get emotionally attached to the characters going through this bizarre situation. "Due Date" wants to get you attached to its characters, but never finds the emotional resonance to make it happen. It was certainly an interesting choice to pair Robert Downey Jr. with Zach Galifianakis, but without that emotional foundation, what's the purpose in watching their trials and tribulations? 2.5/4 stars.