d. Todd Philips / 2010 / USA / 95 min
Cinema 1 @ Empire Leicester Square (London, UK)
When I wrote about Todd Philips’ last feature, The Hangover – which receives almost equal billing on some UK posters for Due Date – I arrived at a loose theory about what I termed Male-Orientated Comedies. Since then, I’ve refined the tenets of the theory somewhat to cover what are essentially frat boy stories, told in different ways or in new (non-College) settings, with a distinct gross-out element and a predilection for supposedly ‘boundary-pushing’ (but often just coarse) humour. I termed them Male-Orientated Comedies simply because they are exclusively by men, for men and – crucially – about men.
The Hangover certainly fitted within the parameters of MOC, and it’s pretty tempting to think of Due Date as a pared-back, two-handed version of Phillips’ earlier Vegas vacation and, in a lot of senses, it is just that. But whilst The Hangover‘s ‘load’ (so to speak) was spread across an ensemble, Due Date, by its very nature, must cling tightly to the relationship between its two central characters, with a very real risk that it simply might not work. Then again, with a pairing of Zach Galifianakis and Robert Downey Jr., how could it not?
Well, it does work for the most part, with the duo perfectly embodying the odd-couple pairing of which Hollywood is so fond. But whilst this central partnership is actually pretty great, the film as a whole is far from a resounding success. Already mortally wounded by a severe case of episodic plotting, Due Date suffers most from the sheer ambiguity of Downey Jr.’s character, and from the giant, stinking leap in logic that sees them drive halfway across the United States in a stolen, battered Mexican border patrol vehicle.
And its precisely this kind of farfetchedness (along with its strong MOC tone) that gives Due Date rather more than a slight resemblance to the hit-and-miss hilarity of Pineapple Express. Indeed, the very fact that Philips attempts, in what is ostensibly a broad comedy, to tether one foot in the dramatic, semi-serious mould (through both the central MacGuffin-esque plotline of one character trekking cross-country for the birth of his first child, and the death of the others’ father) whilst simultaneously unable to reach the heights of sheer ridiculousness achieved by Pineapple Express, no doubt accounts for the middling success of Due Date.
And whilst there are some great little set pieces here, and some very witty lines (many of which are no doubt destined to become catchphrases in certain circles) in the end, Due Date fails largely because it loses its way for long sections and fails to maintain narrative interest, literally fumbling along with its characters until they get into their next, contrived and ill-conceived pickle.