There is a lot to be said about the filmmaking process that is mostly, if not purposefully concealed from the average movie-going public. Names sell pictures as much as advertising campaigns – some films have both, excessively if not desperately in some cases. Top talent fresh from the success of other films often find smaller, less demanding projects to catch their breath or keep busy with while larger productions gain momentum and realize a shooting schedule. Some films have been sitting on a shelf or worse, tossed into the puzzle box of possible projects fueled by one-liners and lowbrow humor that looks promising to studio execs wanting to capitalize on the now – think zombie movie spin offs, slash and gore, and these the low ball, no thought required cheese chucklers.
In the case of Due Date, writer/director/producer Todd Phillips follows in the footsteps of his widely successful and vastly superior 2009 film The Hangover, but fails at the most basic level of originality and fun. In place of fun, Due Date is a hodge-podge of silly, frequently stupid, at times funny but mostly erratic situational moments, all of which we have seen in much more successful films, including those written and directed by Phillips. Due Date feels shabby, like a corduroy jacket coming undone at the seams, worn out like the last fibers of a throw pillow before the stuffing comes out and makes a mess no one wants to clean up. There are funny bits but they might just as well been shot from t-shirt cannons into a crowd of innocent bystanders as the distance between the chuckles is where the un-fun of the film slows, gasps, and resides. If you want the laugh without the investment, you can see just about all the best jokes in the trailer. This goes to show you that too much of a good thing is indeed too much even when the thing is not very good and the too much part is why they put the recommended dosage label on prescription medication.
Now I do recognize the importance of variety for filmmakers and actors, the significance of breaking away from type for say a serious actor like De Niro when he made an early switch to comedy in Terry Gilliam’s 1985 film, Brazil and subsequent films since. Robert Downey Jr. and Zach Galifianakis, however, are not that intimate with truthful, emotionally three-dimensional characters and as such, films of this persuasion feel more like a paycheck than anything else does. Paychecks are good, they’re even necessary vehicles, at times considered pressure release valves for both the universe of the film-maker and that of the film-watcher. Yet more times than anyone would like to admit, the so-called valve is stuck closed or open all the way and the laughs are painfully sparse. Due Date’s shelf life ticks louder than the next punch line or drawn out, high-priced chase sequence, insulting the senses before it can even delight.
The risky thing about a buddy movie where the main characters spend the totality of the story in a car, together, without any other people around, is keeping the audience invested. Sadly the jokes bump into one another at times even when Due Date enlists the help of Jamie Foxx and Juliette Lewis who have small parts, mostly just cameos not intended for much screen time, character development, or much reprieve from the un-fun as previously mentioned. Perhaps we should be thankful that Phillips spared us from the otherwise clunky pretense of another ensemble chuckle – The Hangover makes the most of that real state and then some – but that is hardly consolation.
There is no place for story and plot point analysis. Anything I write here will only dim in comparison to, or contrast with the actual film. What Due Date accomplishes most is to remind us that humor is not easy and just because people are laughing doesn’t make them funny. Fans of Downey Jr., and/or Galifianakis will most likely find enough humor and charm that the price of admission will not have felt like a total waste of money. Fans of Phillips will have to wait a little longer for The Hangover 2 and maybe a chance he’ll make more of the opportunity revisiting the material with the stellar ensemble cast from that first film – or not.