A Little Past Its Due Date

In “The Hangover,” Todd Philips couples unlikely scenarios, people and drugs in Sin City, lending the movie an unpolished charm absent from clumsy kid-brother attempt “Due Date.”  It’s the ‘09 hit recycled, a “Planes, Trains and Automobiles” rehash, with only glimmers of either’s intricacy or precise timing, a reminder that the best thoughtless slapstick comedy is, in fact, rarely thoughtless.

Dressed to the nines, manic-perfectionist father-to-be Peter Highman (Robert Downey Jr.) is stressin’ — his baby drops in less than a week and he’s hundreds of miles away. En route to the airport, Peter collides with the physical manifestation of a train wreck — Hollywood-hopeful Ethan Tremblay (Zach Galifianakis) and his French bulldog. In true Murphy’s Law fashion, the two find themselves seated beside each other on a flight back to Los Angeles and (much to Peter’s escalating dismay) wind up on the airport’s no-fly list.  After glossing over a series of logic missteps, Peter — out of options, money and quickly losing time — accepts Ethan’s offer to carpool cross-country.  A host of unlikely shenanigans ensue, mostly brought on by Ethan’s aggravated levels of idiocy, as the triad race to the City of Angels.

Unfortunately, Philip’s latest suffers from an inferiority complex, ironically brought by the director’s own voracious unwillingness to stray from a once-winning formula. It’s not that “Due Date” is intrinsically unpleasant to watch — the argumentative banter between the movie’s leading men is, for the most part, successful in its haphazard humor. Ethan’s insults are mostly unpracticed and accidental, while Peter’s have a premeditated bite — highlighting the characters’ stark differences.

But without Las Vegas’ lights and wild nights, incredible scenarios lose believability, and Ethan’s overly characterized one-man dumbass variety hour shackles the film. His escalating asinine behavior is responsible for a totaled Subaru, an accidental trip to the Mexican border and a disgusted/beaten up/arrested/shot Peter. After so many minutes of this, the car begins to collapse in on itself, and despite Galifianakis’ inherent charm, begins to feel claustrophobically minuscule to both Peter and the audience. The need to escape, by any means necessary, becomes overwhelming.

It’s a shame; pairing the tense, explosive Downey and loose-cannon Galifianakis should be the perfect balance of the bitter and ludicrous. Galifianakis is all hippy gauche and belly flab — touting a butt-faced masturbating pug and a coffee can full of his father’s ashes, while frequently complaining about his faux-glaucoma. The actor’s well-reprised performance as a bearded, fumbling savant has never been so overwhelmingly loud — or bearded. It’s a wonder Downey’s persona survived at all. Saddled with Ethan’s considerable weight, the actor could have easily crumbled under his partner’s far more dynamic and colorful personality. Instead, Downey keeps stride, white-lipped, flying into red rages with remarkable rigidity, spitting curses and frequently (as is the case when traveling alongside Ethan) blood.

The joke is on Philips. While Downey and Galifianakis escape largely unscathed from the gambit — if not better for it — the director’s unwillingness to change his formula doesn’t allow the men’s personalities to fit into the film’s much-needed sense of urgency. Their cross-country destination is lost in crude attempts at last-ditch humor.  (C+)