Sunday, November 7, 2010

Due Date (2010): No Hangover Here

One year, some months and 245 films earlier, I experienced the phenomenon that was The Hangover. The definitive guy movie, the film pushed boundaries and made us laugh harder than almost ever before and most certainly ever after. The film became one of the highest grossing R-rated films of all time and was even awarded a Golden Globe for Best Picture – Comedy or Musical.

Now we have Due Date, the latest offering of director Todd Phillips. It marks the return of Zach Galifianakis and Todd Phillips, a match made at the Elvis Chapel with blessing of all the cinematic saints and gambling sinners. Added to this already exciting duo is Robert Downey Jr., one of the greatest (and most under-appreciated) actor of his generation. Even before the film hit the screens, everyone involved knew that they had a winner on their hands. I was very excited by the prospects and when I finally saw it, I must say I was a quite underwhelmed.

Don’t get me wrong. Due Date is a laugh out loud funny, in parts. Seen as a whole, however, it is an uneven film with moments of raunchy humour, warm character building and just weird, inexplicable antics meshed together to make a feature length film. The pedigree of this film makes you expect a lot more than that. It tries to mix gooey sentimentality with disgusting (and admittedly, sporadically funny) raunchy behaviour but is never able to find its centre of gravity. Many critics have called it a shameless copy of John Hughes’ Plains, Trains and Automobiles. Now I haven’t actually seen the film. However, even on its own, it is easy to see the flaws in Due Date.

The plot is simple. Peter Highman (Robert Downey Jr) must travel from Atlanta to Los Angeles to his wife who is about to have his first child. However, a chance encounter with the strange Ethan Trembley (Zach Gilifianakis) and a series of misunderstandings lead to his removal from the plane and he is forced to take a cross country road trip with his new “friend”. On the way, they will get beaten up, ripped off, doped up, shot at and even arrested among various other things.

Now, the premise is funny but the film as a whole is not. Basically, the writing here is weak, confused and leaves behind a disjointed screenplay for the cast to work with. Ethan Trembley is one of the most unlikable characters I have seen in a long time. His characterisation is not only problematic but also inexplicable of sorts. The reason for this is that the film seems to fit its characters around the jokes it creates rather than the other way round. Which is why, when Ethan laughs out loud at Peter’s story about his father, it makes no sense whatsoever, even given Ethan’s strange little mind. Also, there is meanness to the humour in the film which looks completely out of sync with the sentimental portions of the film. And just when you think things couldn’t get worse, the last half hour of the film is just plain annoying. This is because the writers throw logic to the winds and the situations make no sense whatsoever. It makes you wonder what they were smoking when they wrote that garbage. 

There are two things worth mentioning here though. The camerawork is gorgeous capturing the beauty of the southern states in the US with their stark landscapes and unbelievable sunsets exceedingly well. The Grand Canyon sequence is particularly breathtaking for its camerawork. Also, the soundtrack is excellent as is usual for Todd Phillips’ films. The only problem is, this is a comedy and when the humour is sporadic, audiences are hardly going to care about the sights and sounds that the film has to offer.

The two man cast really tries hard to make the film work and it does succeed to some extent. Both Downey and Gilifianakis are, in essence playing themselves, or rather their Hollywood stereotypes. Downey is the suave, good hearted but mean-spirited guy with some Tony Stark left overs. Gilifianakis is playing what is essentially a bad retread of Alan from The Hangover. He is being stereotyped and that is never a good thing. The two of them do put in an effort and are perhaps the only reason the film is worth seeing. Jamie Foxx's cameo appearance is a complete and utter waste of screen time.

In the end, Due Date is not a terrible film. But it is not a particularly good one either. It suffers from weak characterisation and bad writing. It is also uneven and is better seen as a series of short comic sketches rather than one whole film. However, the funny bits are mostly hands down hilarious. If that is enough for you, give this one a try. But be warned, there is no Hangover here. And for just this once, it is a bad thing.

P.S.: My suggestion? Wait for the DVD.

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