High-strung father-to-be Peter Highman is forced to hitch a ride with aspiring actor Ethan Tremblay on a road trip in order to make it to his child’s birth on time.
Year 2, Film #12
THE REVIEW: Due Date is a travel-cross-country film where two strangers are stuck together and they’re forced to get along to reach their destination. To me this is an overdone and highly predictable film. You might be thinking, “Well if it’s so overdone, name one other example.” I’d bring up Planes, Trains & Automobiles (which now that I’m thinking about it is eerily similar from what I remember) but to be honest, that’s pretty much the only other example I can think of off the top of my head right now. My point, whether it’s true or not, is that at least for Due Date it runs into problems of keeping things interesting. There may not be that many other examples out there but regardless, the premise itself doesn’t allow much wiggle room which in the end is what presents problems.
Due Date starts in Atlanta as Peter Highman (Robert Downey Jr.) tries to board a plane back to Los Angeles so he can see his pregnant wife Sarah (Michelle Monaghan) give birth to their first child later in the week. He’s a wealthy businessman who is arrogant and can be quite explosive when provoked. Not that long into the film we’re introduced to Ethan Tremblay (Zach Galifianakis), an aspiring actor coming from his father’s funeral on his way to meet an agent in Hollywood. As you can probably guess, Ethan is the source of conflict that causes Peter to lose his calm on the plane. Both get kicked off an place on a no-fly list and with his stuff confiscated by the TSA, Peter needs to rely on Ethan to provide transportation cross-country so he can see his child be born. The personality differences between the two and the rising hatred leads to many separate incidents along the rode that form the story of the film.
Now as you may be aware, it’s not often I spend this much time describing the plot of the film. While many film critics, including the late Roger Ebert, do summarize the plot, I generally only describe key scenes or moments that help to explain my thoughts. Here, a lot of my thoughts rest in the general structure of the film. My paragraph above describing the setup and the bulk of the film may seem quite vague and non-specific but this is exactly what I want to get across. The problem with Due Date isn’t in the execution or even in the acting. Downey Jr. and Galifianakis are perfect for the roles they play. Many laughs come from just seeing how naturally their characters react to a certain situations. And the progression from place-to-place, action-to-action doesn’t leave any room for second-guessing; it truly feels like an unplanned cross-country road trip. It’s funny and, at times, revealing (you can’t go 2,000 miles without talking no matter how much Peter tries) providing a certain level of entertainment.
However, it feels far from original and totally predictable. There in fact may not be many other films like Due Date but that doesn’t matter; it feels like there are. And the reason is because a film with as many restrictions as Due Date doesn’t have much room for experimentation or alteration. The basic template is to get from point A to point B by X time in Y method. What happens between A and B can change and the reason for why can as well, but the basics can’t. To make two strangers in a car really top notch you need incredible characters, great motive, and original events on the road. While the acting was indeed perfect, the characters themselves felt a bit bland. The wealthy and uptight businessman and the lowly slob have been done quite frequently (Trading Places, The Odd Couple, and The Campaign to name a few) and here many of the traits feel recycled. The motive – Peter wanting to see the birth of his child – is great and honorable but the solution seems rushed. Why did Peter have to travel with this man he despised and presented the problem in the first place. Couldn’t he have hitchhiked by offering the promise of money (he is rich after all) or at least call in more favors from friends? Darryl (Jamie Foxx), a friend of Peter’s, does offer assistance – and a car – in Texas which helped finish the journey. Couldn’t Peter have found a different way to at least Texas by calling more friends or friends of friends? And the events were also fairly lackluster. Wanting to desert the travel partner, getting stuck in Mexico, and getting injured along the way all are not that new. There is a twist at the end that’s alluded to early in the film that was quite amusing and unexpected, but there aren’t many of these.
There’s a lot of promise and hope in Due Date but in the end that’s all it is; hope. It still is a funny film and as I’ve repeatedly said, has a perfect cast and great acting in Robert Downey Jr. and Zach Galifianakis. But a lackluster and unoriginal premise/story doesn’t provide a real motivation to see the film. You won’t have a bad time if you watch the film, but if your scanning a list of available titles, there’s no reason you should pick this over something else.
THE RATING: 3 out of 5