Due Date (Warner Bros., R)

There are, of course, differences between the two films: Planes, Trains & Automobiles is funny. Due Date is not.


If you read more than just this one review of Due Date, I bet you’ll get sick of all of the reviewers comparing the film to the great 1987 film Planes, Trains and Automobiles. In fairness, though, if you go see Due Date, I bet you’ll get sick of how much like a shitty, watered-down version of PT&A Due Date is.
Really, it’s almost like Warner Bros. waited for John Hughes to die so that he wouldn’t sue for plagiarism. The setup is the same—high-strung guy (Robert Downey Jr. as Peter here, Steve Martin as Neal in Planes) runs into fat lout (Zach Galifianakis as Ethan in Due Date, John Candy as Del in Planes) on the way to the airport, t.hey wind up being on the same flight together, even sitting next to each other, things go wrong on the flight, and they wind up traveling across the country via various means to get home by a deadline imposed by Peter/Neal (his wife’s impending caesarian section here, Thanksgiving in Planes, Trains). Of course on the trip back, Ethan/Del annoys the bejesus out of Peter/Neal, and yet Peter/Neal learns a lot about tolerance and life along the way.
There are, of course, differences between the two films: Planes, Trains & Automobiles is funny. Due Date is not. Planes feels realistic. Due Date does not. Due Date has unbelievingly glaring product placement and is, in the end, a glorified commercial for a shitty TV show. Planes, Trains & Automobiles was not.
 Due Date was co-written and directed by Todd Phillips, on his first film since the crazy success of last year’s The Hangover, which of course is also the film that brought Zach Galifianakis mainstream attention. I have liked Phillips’ films in the past (Old School and to some extent Road Trip, also the documentaries on GG Allin and frat houses he made in his early career), but I did not like The Hangover and could borderline not stand Due Date. It sometimes veers toward tolerable, and honestly got at least a couple of laughs out of me, but this is thanks exclusively to its great cast. I have a ton of respect for Galifianakis, and of course everyone loves Robert Downey Jr. these days, myself included. Bit parts by the likes of Danny McBride, RZA and Juliette Lewis help matters, too; this team could make just about anything funny, but not quite this.
Downey Jr.’s Peter seems more like a role written for Adam Sandler. He’s a barely contained fountain of rage posing as a three dimensional character, and Robert’s too good for the part (see: scene where Peter punches a small child in the stomach in a fit of rage, played to the audience for laughs). Sadly, Del does seem like it was written for Galifianakis, and this is something that I’m worried about—anyone who’s seen Zach’s stand-up (or even seen his very good performance in this year’s not-so-great It’s Kind of a Funny Story) knows that he can do much better and deserves infinitely better. But already he’s being pigeonholed in Hollywood as the dumb fat guy. It’s a role he is admittedly adept at playing, but he is capable of so much more. Worse still is that he keeps being the dumb, fat guy in unfunny movies—can’t he at the very least be the dumb, fat guy in a good movie?
On very rare occasions, Due Date strays from its wholesale ripping off of Planes, Trains & Automobiles, such as in a subplot where Ethan has to dispose of his dead father’s ashes. And guess what he stores his dead father’s ashes in: an old coffee can. Sound familiar? That doesn’t sound like another, much better comedy (that starts with a “b” and ends with an “iglebowski”), does it? And do you think the disposal of these ashes goes as planned? Well, I guess if you’re going to steal, you might as well steal from the best. | Pete Timmermann

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