‘Due Date’ follows comedic roadmap

By Drew Hunt

Given the often formulaic nature of mainstream comedies, it only makes sense that Todd Phillips, director of last year’s breakaway hit “The Hangover,” would turn to one of Hollywood’s most tried and true genres: the road movie. Ever since Clark Gable wooed Claudette Colbert in “It Happened One Night,” moviegoers have remained transfixed by the expansive nature of the open highway and how it pertains to a sort of Americanized self-discovery.

Phillips’ take on the genre is of a far more crude nature than Frank Capra’s screwball comedy, but the farcical rapport of its two main characters—Robert Downey, Jr. and Zach Galafianakis—has its own type charisma.

In the film, neurotic father-to-be Peter—Downey , Jr.—is forced into hitching a ride with the dimwitted Ethan—Galafianakis—in order to arrive home in time for the birth of his first child. Pandemonium ensues as Peter is subjected to Ethan’s continuous idiocy, making the trip a battle for his sanity in addition to a race against the clock.

The simple premise of the film lends itself perfectly to rigid guidelines of the road movie. Because the structure of this kind of movie is largely episodic, with numerous conflicts being introduced and resolved in the span of single scenes, “Due Date” plays out like a string of bits in which Downey, Jr. and Galafianakis stretch their sophomoric legs.

Seeing as Galafiankis and Downey, Jr. get the most screen time, they are essentially given the task of sustaining the entire film and keeping the audience engaged in their plight.

It’s no easy feat, but thanks to their dexterous performances, “Due Date” is genuinely funny—pure escapism in its most raucous form.

Galafiankis particularly shines, and in some ways, perplexes. Seemingly without warning, he shed his underground alt-comic persona and started landing roles in such cinematic washouts as “What Happens in Vegas” and “G-Force.”

But while it may be easy to decry Galafianakis as some sort of sell out, such a denouncement would be unjust. Rather than playing the Hollywood game, he seems to legitimize it by injecting conviction into his more prevalent roles. “Due Date” wouldn’t be nearly as successful as it is without Galafianakis’ proficient comedic skill.

Because despite Phillips’ continued success, he has proven to be a director who relies heavily on the strength of his actors. The success of a film like “Old School” is often credited to its cast, which included Will Ferrell and Vince Vaughn, while “The Hangover” proved to be profitable despite not being nearly as funny as every Cubs fan insisted it was.

As successful as “The Hangover” was, it’s not enough to erase the other hangovers that are Phillips’ worst films—efforts that, coincidentally, feature subpar comedic talent—Jon Heder, anyone?

Still, it’s hard to discredit Phillips and his commitment to inanity.  Both “Old School” and “Starsky and Hutch” are perennial guilty pleasures, and “Due Date” is a film that succeeds in every way it sets out to. It’s a harmless good time—dick jokes and adult infancy abound.