Saturday, November 13, 2010

A Todd Phillips Movie - DUE DATE

Ethan Tremblay: "You better check yourself - before you wreck yourself..."

Could say the same for the director of this movie.  OH!  SNAP!   See what I did there, I made a funny!  Btw, Spoilers.

It's also what Due Date tries to do, the latest movie from Todd Phillips (I don't say 'film' as Phillips doesn't either, he starts it off in the credits with 'Movie', so it goes).  It makes a lot of gags and jokes, and a few of them hit and hit well.  As a series of sketches, Due Date tries to imitate, or just riff of of, other Phillips movie-work such as Road Trip and The Hangover, where the characters get into some crazy shit and along the way... well, it's mostly just the crazy shit, and those guys were already friends.

The problem, as I told a friend the other day with this movie, is the story and most of the characters.  If it were just a sitcom maybe I could just tune in and tune out of it.  But in a movie you have to be with the characters for an extended period and see what will happen.  One big problem is the Quentin Tarantino observation about the downslide in American film in the past twenty years where stories are put by the wayside for the situation, where you know everything that will happen in the movie within the first fifteen minutes.  There could arguably be some unpredictability with the "twist" in the movie that's revealed as to why these two guys, Peter (Robert Downey Jr) and Ethan (Zach Galifianakis), are together, but by that point, who cares.

Basic-as-hell premise: Peter's on his way home from Atlanta to LA to see his wife give birth via C-section of his first child.  He's an "average Joe", or as much as one can try to make RDJ one, and at the airport there is a snafu - a major one - involving a plane incident with a bearded, weird would-be actor named Ethan Tremblay (real name Ethan Chase, why he changes it is a goof for a moment later, but whatever).  He's put on a "No-Fly-List" along with Ethan for a comment the bearded douche made on the plane.  Why Peter is put on this list is just the start of a snowball effect of disbelief-quotients going on throughout the movie.  One tries to put aside this WTF scenario (plus not having his wallet as it was in his luggage on the plane), and tries to go along with the premise that Peter has no choice but to take a ride with the bearded-weirdo with the little dog and his late-father's ashes in a coffee can.

(As a brief aside, they really run the father's-ashes-in-coffee-can gag to the ground, but I liked it better here where it was only for one scene.  And moved along.  Sorry I could only find an imitation, btw.  Still better than most of the gags with it here.  But anyway-)

Due Date seems to think that assholes are inherently funny.  An asshole may do a funny thing here and there or have a funny line, and it does help to have a if not brilliant than certainly enjoyable flavor-of-the-year guy like Galifianakis who brings a certain charm to an asshole like Ethan.  But the character is so insufferable that one just can't put it out of the mind, even for a supposedly goofy road-comedy that takes off MORE than liberally from Planes, Traines & Automobiles, that this 'everyman' character of Peter would have bailed at least three or four times along the way - certainly before the HOLY FUCKING SHIT sequence where Peter is "saved" by Ethan from detainment at the border at Mexico.  How they got to their and how Ethan busts him out and how after a brief would-be Benny Hill chase on the road ensues NOTHING in the realm of repercussions happens from this.  If anything Peter becomes complicit in the warped man-child travels of a guy like Ethan who is just not ready to go out into the world - though he says he's ready to go on to Two & 1/2 Men, which is the greatest sitcom since sliced Seinfeld bread (he doesn't say that last part, that's me, trying to remind myself of something FUNNY).

The movie does have its laughs, but oddly enough not from the supposed funny-man Galifianakis.  If there are any truly big laughs they come from Downey Jr, who though slumming it a bit here compared to his co-star is a fucking genius.  There is one scene where he would be going, you might say, too far with taking care of a little kid in a situation he definitely doesn't want to be in, but that's what's funny about it, and Downey's reaction.  It's really him as the straight-man who does a lot of the heavy lifting here.  And yet about halfway through the movie as the writers stopped giving a shit about plausibility and just tried to find crazier ways that these two cats get into stuff that derails them- usually with one-note side characters played poorly like by Danny McBride, who has made a career out of playing nothing BUT assholes- and by the aforementioned Mexico-chase scene, it totally lost me.

What did I expect from Due Date, and what could you hope to expect?  Sure, for comedy, and there is some of that.  But in comedy there has to be something, ANYTHING, resembling even in the absurdist situations some characters who you can kinda sorta like or just see as being realistic about the nature of the madness of the situation(s).  The Hangover succeeded because it had that, and for as crazy as it could get and unpredictable it still had a through-line that made sense.  Same thing with Road Trip.  With this, it's like Phillips just doesn't care enough and is more concerned about staging the gags instead of telling a story that's worth anything or giving us characters outside of Peter that are worth finding something good in.  By the time the two main characters connect it's like the contrivances that lead a romantic comedy couple to get together: totally unreasonably and with one of them surely being a sociopath that the movie doesn't acknowledge is one.   For the few big laughs, and there are a few, Due Date frustrates to the lesser of Hollywood-machine-product standards.

To put it another way: a highlight is a masturbation joke.  With a dog.

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