Arts and Culture

'Due Date'

What drives around comes around. In this case, a cruder Planes, Trains and Automobiles.'

By Steve Burgess 5 Nov 2010 | TheTyee.ca

Steve Burgess writes about film and culture every other Friday on The Tyee.

November 1987 -- the leading political figure in B.C. is Bill Vander Zalm. He owes his climb to the previous premier, Bill Bennett, who resigned amid scandal and plunging poll numbers. Zalm's own resignation is still a few years off.

Also in Nov. 1987: John Hughes releases his comedy classic Planes, Trains, and Automobiles. History and cinema, always repeating.

In this flashback week, when yet another B.C. premier has followed the beaten path to disgrace, director Todd Phillips unleashes Due Date. It's a re-working of the beloved Hughes film in concept if not in plot, with Robert Downey Jr. and Zach Galifianakis replacing Steve Martin and John Candy. Looked at another way, Due Date is a reworking of Phillips' last big smash, The Hangover, which will be officially reworked next year as The Hangover 2. The movie biz may be the only field more cyclical than B.C. politics.

Downey Jr. is Peter Highman (cheap joke coming eventually), flying home to be with his wife for the birth of their first child. Oh, but the best-laid plans of tight-assed architects oft collide with funny fat men, leading to awkward encounters and uncomfortable rental cars and masturbating dogs. That last one is a 21st century innovation -- Hughes' famous two-men-in-a-bed, "Those aren't pillows" scene has been replaced here by actual wanking, both human and canine. It's the new cinematic freedom for which our fathers fought Hitler. At the very least you have to admit that dog trainers are doing remarkable things these days.

The transgressive stylings of Zach Galifianakis

Like The Hangover, this is a road film about guys, and whatever Galifianakas is. His film persona is set now -- the boundary-smashing, squirm-inducing, clueless-yet-confident man-child who creates a steady comic tension thanks to a blithe ability to commit transgressions you haven't even considered yet. It can be a great persona, and it's probably the best reason to consider seeing Due Date. Galifianakas offers up characteristic gems like his performance of the opening scene of The Godfather, performed for a couple of awe-struck potheads (one of whom is Juliette Lewis in the cameo she was born to play). Then there's his fan blog for a certain Charlie Sheen sitcom, called "It's Raining Two-and-a-Half Men." Sheen also nails his own cameo -- he plays Charlie Sheen on Two-and-a-Half Men. As for Downey Jr., he's a much better Steve Martin than Steve Martin ever was.

The leads make you wish Due Date was a better movie. Unfortunately the film takes the apparently de rigeur detour into wacky hijinx, spiked with drippy sentimentality. Phillips just starts throwing incidents and plotlines up there, particularly one involving Jamie Foxx that, if you think about it, really doesn't make any sense. But I guess the thinking part is a mistake. And I suppose it's pointless to wonder whether stealing a police vehicle, a prisoner and a Customs trailer from the U.S./Mexico border might inspire the cops to chase you for more than a few miles. But with apologies to the "It's only a movie" crowd, road comedies are rarely improved by abandoning internal logic for anything-goes wackiness; especially when, as in this case, the movie wants you to care about its principals.

Still, if you want a few laughs you could do worse than Due Date. And who doesn't need a few laughs? Maybe Gordo and Barack will save you the aisle seat.  [Tyee]

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