By Bill Wine
He’s expectant, his wife’s expecting, and we have expectations. For the road comedy Due Date, that is, which fails to live up to them even though it produces a chuckle or two.
Robert Downey Jr. is Peter Highman, an architect whose wife (Michelle Monaghan) is due to deliver their first child in five days.
And circumstances of minimal probability conspire to force him to catch a cross-country ride with one Ethan Tremblay, an aspiring actor and Hollywood hopeful played by the ubiquitous Zach Galifianakis. Ethan’s father has just passed away and he is not only cradling his pet bulldog but he’s also hauling his father’s ashes, which explains the coffee can he’s carrying around with him.
Director Todd Phillips (the R-rated blockbuster The Hangover; Old School; Starsky & Hutch; School for Scoundrels; Road Trip) seems intent on satisfying the expectations that fans of The Hangover bring with them.
So, although there are occasional comic highlights that push the taste envelope in the same way that elements of that film did, narrative continuity and credulity remain in the distant back seat.
The odd-couple script generated by the quartet (at least one too many) of scenarists — Alan R. Cohen, Alan Freedland, Adam Sztykiel, and director Phillips — is a Planes, Trains, and Automobiles wannabe with an uncomfortable number of thinly veiled variations of wrinkles from the far superior 1987 vehicles vehicle.
And while the natural humor — and the eventual pathos — that Steve Martin and John Candy generated was achieved with a minimum of strain, the relationship of Downey and Galfianakis, with the latter seemingly replicating his performance from The Hangover, never quite jells.
It includes a stop at the home of Peter’s college buddy, played by Jamie Foxx, who just might be a tad closer to Peter’s wife than he should be. At about the point that Foxx takes over the driving, the whole auto-neurotic enterprise seems to run out of gas.
What the comedically combustible combination of Downey and Galifianakis bring to the party is the contrast between the former’s irritable exasperation and the latter’s puppy-dog otherworldliness. But that registers early on and then more or less repeats itself for the rest of the film’s running time.
And despite the sharp comic timing of the two leads, there is not enough likability generated by either or both of them to bridge the numerous dead spots.
Road romps can turn into aimless shaggy dog stories if the narrative doesn’t eventually take on a shape and purpose other than that of a showcase for the stars. And that’s pretty much what happens in this case, at about the halfway mark.
By the final reels, the “story” has fallen apart, even though there has been a boisterous laugh or two along the way.
So we’ll drive 2 stars out of 4. Too much of Due Date just won’t do.