Director: Todd Phillips
Starring: Robert Downey Jr, Zach Galifianakis, Michelle Monaghan, Jamie Foxx
I thought ‘The Hangover’ was funny. I thought Zach Galifianakis was funny. Then I discovered ‘Due Date’ and nothing has been the same since. I often go through life throwing in quotes from my favourite comedy films whenever the opportunity arises (annoying, I know) with ‘Anchorman’ and ‘Step Brothers’ dominating my late teen years. But since 2010, nothing has come close to ‘Due Date’. I’ve watched the film so many times I could write this review with my eyes closed; but watching it once more, just to be sure, seemed like a great idea.
Peter Highman – seriously, that’s his name – is expecting the birth of his first child, meticulously planning every last detail, from the name of his unborn heir to the desired birthing method. On the journey back to his wife in Los Angeles however, Peter (Robert Downey Jr) and Ethan Tremblay (Zach Galifianakis) accidentally switch bags at the airport in an ill-fated first encounter, and their subsequent disagreement lands them both on a no-fly list. With no belongings to his name, Peter is forced to hitch a ride across the USA with the irresponsible, flamboyant, aspiring actor, Ethan and his equally eccentric pooch. Hilarity ensues.
A reliable source tells me – every time we watch ‘Due Date’ – that Robert Downey Jr and Galifianakis had never met before this film. In fact, Robert Downey Jr had never even heard of Galifianakis before. The resulting chemistry from the pair however, is extraordinary – arguably made all the better by the natural reactions of Downey Jr upon meeting this very bizzare, very hilarious character. Peter Highman is short tempered, volatile, sarcastic and rather cynical, all of which are firmly engrained in the ‘Iron-Man’ actor’s range of skills. Placed opposite the energy and optimism of Galifianakis’ Ethan however, these character traits are amplified and tested to the limit. The back and forth between these two – a combination of silly one-liners, absurd Q&A sessions and trivial arguments – makes for one of the finest odd couples in comedy history. Galifianakis is, admittedly, much like his iconic character from ‘The Hangover’, with many of those recognisable mannerisms shining through again here. But we also get a glimpse at his dramatic acting skills with an incredibly intense role play in a rest stop bathroom, which stops the comic tone of the film dead, just for a moment.
Director Todd Phillips could probably leave his name off the credits roll and you would still bet your life on him having some involvement. Comparisons with ‘The Hangover’ are inescapable, from Ethan Tremblay’s “what Alan did next” performance, the disastrous road trip concept and another perfectly compiled soundtrack, but neither film should be judged against one another. The narrative and character development laid out here are uncommonly deep and thoughtful for a comedy movie; Phillips and his writers strike gold in having two fantastic lead actors to bring all this to life. Not only is this an advanced comedy film in terms of plot, but some of the camera work in ‘Due Date’ is comparable to top Hollywood action movies. Panning shots of the long road ahead and the stunning Grand Canyon, as well as ludicrous car crashes and fight scenes, could easily fool you into thinking you were watching the next Bond movie. That is, until you see the portly, perm-proud Ethan strutting from the vehicle, chihuahua in hand.
Todd Phillips is part of what I regard as a new breed of comedy directors, along with Paul Feig (Bridesmaids) and the duo of Christopher Miller and Phil Lord (21 Jump Street) amongst others, who are more intent on providing a solid narrative to complement the comedic elements. Long gone are the days where American comedy movies relied on mindless slapstick and toilet humour, and ‘Due Date’ is the ultimate testament to this progression of the comedy genre. That said, when Phillips does implement the use of slapstick humour, albeit sporadically, it just seems to work every time. If it wasn’t for the nostalgic value of ‘Anchorman’ and ‘Step Brothers’ I would have no hesitation in saying that ‘Due Date’ is my favourite comedy film of all time. As good as a comedy film can be, if not better.