As I sat back in the theater, waiting with bated breath for the latest comedic effort from “The Hangover” director Todd Phillips to begin, a thought crossed my mind: “Will this be as funny as ‘The Hangover?’ Can lightning really strike twice?” Admittedly, my inner cynic kicked in, saying that there was no way Phillips could follow up a movie so brilliant in its uncontrollable comedic madness. To my surprise, “Due Date” turned out to be pretty much everything I wanted it to be.
The story follows high-strung architect Peter Highman (played by the consistently hilarious Robert Downey Jr.) as he attempts to make it home to California in time for the birth of his first child. Everything goes according to plan, until a chance encounter with aspiring actor and destructive force of nature Ethan Tremblay (Zach Galifianakis) gets him mistaken for a terrorist, kicked off a plane and put on the no-fly list. Now, stuck without a wallet and no way to get home, Peter is forced to take the cross-country road trip from hell with Ethan to get to his wife in time.
Most of the humor comes from the absurd situations the pair repeatedly ends up in, or Ethan’s amazing ability to screw up just when everything seems to be going fine. This really helps the audience to stay captivated, as you really don’t know what’s going to happen next. I won’t spoil some of the more outrageous scenes, but suffice to say that most of the film’s funniest moments can’t be done justice with simple words.
What makes the film really click is the strength of its performances. Downey Jr. plays Peter like a normal man pushed to the edge of sanity for reasons he can’t understand. You get the feeling that every time Ethan says something stupid, or gets himself into trouble, Peter’s struggling with the urge to choke the life out of him. He starts to crack, and it’s hilarious whenever he does. Conversely, the best way to describe Ethan would be a dignified idiot. He’s a hurricane of stupidity and oafishness who can’t seem to do anything right. But Galifianakis shows us that there’s more to Ethan than pure moronic chaos. With every puppy-eyed glance, we learn he’s a lonely, well-meaning soul who’ll do and say just about anything to be liked. Like his character in “The Hangover,” Galifianakis dares us to sympathize with Ethan even though he’s dumber than a sack of bricks. Trust me, by the end of the movie you’ll care about him, stupidity and all.
If there is one complaint I have with this film, it’s that some of the shenanigans Peter and Ethan end up in border on the ridiculous. Thankfully, these scenes are rarely played straight, which hinders my ability to criticize them too much. Honestly, at some points I was laughing so hard I barely even noticed. The bottom line is, even if you aren’t a fan of Phillips’ earlier work, this is one movie every fan of comedy should definitely see, as the performances alone make it well worth a trip to the theater.