“Due Date,” the road trip movie starring Robert Downey Jr. and Zach Galifianakis, is a rough-and-tumble love story of two unlikely travel companions that mashes up headlight-over-tailight action, wry comedy and heartfelt drama. While the laughs aren’t as side-splitting as director Todd Phillips’ “Hang Over” hit, the tumultuous car ride from Atlanta to Los Angeles is a comedy-lover’s joyride.
Rotate! Road Trips Transform Character
Road trip movies historically symbolize personal transformation in Hollywood (“Thelma and Louise,” “Easy Rider,” “The Wizard of Oz,” etc.) and in the case of Warner Brothers “Due Date” both characters would do best to change before reaching L.A. Though unaware of their personality defects, each character has elements that the other needs in order to transcend their limitations.
Downey’s character, Peter Highman, is an edgy architect with a wife (rising star Michelle Monaghan) scheduled to give birth in a few short days. Capable of spitting or punching when provoked (he slugs a little boy in one uncomfortable scene) Peter needs to loosen up his fist as well as his heart before entering fatherhood.
Galifianakis’ character, Ethan Tremblay, a Lilith Fair t-shirt wearing, man-child who carries his French bulldog Sonny around like a doll, is still raw with emotion after his father’s recent death. Ethan needs to toughen up if he’s going to realize his ridiculous Hollywood dream of becoming an actor on the sitcom “Two and a Half Men.”
All Stressed Out and a Long Way to Go
Red flags fly as soon as Ethan literally crashes in to Peter’s world and the two soon get stuck together after a series of airport mishaps places them on the no-fly list and onto the open road. Ethan is reckless, self-righteous, repulsive, annoying, vulnerable, inappropriate and living in a dream world, but he has the keys to the rental car and the only source of money that will get them to their destination.
Having no alternative, Type A personality Peter does his best to tolerate the journey, but after a rough night trying to sleep in the car with a self-gratifying Ethan and Sonny, he jumps on the chance to drive off and leaves Ethan behind. When Peter realizes the cremated ashes of Ethan’s dad are still in the car he reluctantly returns to Ethan and Sonny and proceeds to receive the full karmic lesson of learning to live with and even love someone despite their flaws.
The script, written by Phillips, Alan R. Cohen, Alan Freedland and Adam Sztykiel, explores themes of birth, death, love, anger, guilt, sex, jealousy and forgiveness as the two men and a half (Sonny) tumble across the highway of life. En route they’re plagued with a variety of pitfalls including monetary deficiencies, getting beaten by an angry Western Union worker (Danny McBride), getting mixed up in an outlandish incident at the Mexican border while surviving on a diet of Bugles corn chips, waffles and medical marijuana.
Galifianakis plays Ethan with the lack of self-awareness but simultaneous manipulative behavior of a three-year-old, causing the viewer to question whether he met Peter by accident or by stalking him. But the actor’s blend of humor and pathos draws us in at the movies most touching moments, such as when he releases his father’s ashes at the Grand Canyon saying, “Daddy, you were like a father to me.”
Downey skillfully manages to keep the frustrated straight role from becoming monotonous in a part that may have been an actor’s stretch for him – it’s been a while since we’ve seen him portray a regular, albeit stressed out guy between his stints saving the world as Iron Man and Sherlock Holmes. Jamie Foxx and Juliette Lewis breathe fresh air into the action with their small but memorable roles.
Phillips pushes his duo into some seriously shocking moments that keep the viewer wondering if the movie is going to take a turn toward the dark side, as in Jonathan Demme’s “Something Wild.” Ultimately, when the going gets tough, Peter is able to pull the tough out of Ethan who mans up and earns the love and respect of a now open-hearted and open-wounded Peter, insuring a nutty, lifelong bromance.
Running time: 100 minutes
Rating: R for language and drug use and sexual content,