In what amounts to a minor reshuffling of Planes, Trains and Automobiles, Robert Downey Jr. plays a hypersonically, megalithically uptight architect trying to get home to Los Angeles for the birth of his first child. Zach Galifianakis, meanwhile, plays a extracellularly, superabundantly annoying would-be actor. Wouldn’t it be wacky if these two—you guessed it!—had to road-trip across America?
Road-trip movies are among the laziest of screenwriting structures. Basically, you put two characters in a car, pick a few locations on a highway map and set up a series of random encounters until you reach the 90-minute mark—at which point your protagonists reach their destination and the movie ends. Even so, it took four entire people to assemble the screenplay for Due Date, including director Todd Phillips (who, prior to hits Old School and The Hangover, went down this exact path with 2000’s Road Trip).
The film starts with our characters meeting unhappily at the Atlanta airport. Peter Highman (Downey) is a high-strung jerk who yells a lot. Ethan Tremblay (Galifianakis) is a vexing, socially awkward stoner with markedly less understanding of basic human interaction than feral children rescued from the jungles of India. The two get kicked off their flight to Los Angeles for barely believable reasons. (Apparently, holding a BlackBerry in the first-class cabin will get you shot by a federal air marshal, booted from the plane and put on a no-fly list. Who knew?) Since Peter’s wallet is in his luggage on the plane, he’s stuck with no money and no identification. By ignoring such modern wonders as telephones, credit card companies and the Internet, and by populating the world with customer service agents who seem to want to physically assault all of their customers, the screenwriters find sufficient excuse to hopelessly strand Peter. Unfortunately, rescue comes in the form of Ethan, who has rented a car to drive his way to L.A. Against his better judgment, Peter accepts the ride.
What follows are the usual wacky hijinks, liberally accented by the sort of raunchy humor you might expect from the team that brought us The Hangover. Some of it is kind of funny. Most of it is kind of not. The biggest impediment to laughs is the fact that the characters are so aggressively charmless. These aren’t the sort of people you’d want to spend a minute or two at the bus stop with, much less a major road trip. The main “joke,” of course, is that Peter and Ethan are such mismatched traveling companions. Like men and women in a romantic comedy who hate each other at first sight yet are destined to be lovers, angry Peter and wacko Ethan are guaranteed to be BFFs by the time credits roll.
Sadly, the apathy of the script extends to character development. Peter and Ethan’s bonding is as illogical as it is inevitable. It occurs over some ill-placed emotional sharing (replace John Candy’s dead wife from P,T&A with a dead father and you’re done) and a liberal application of marijuana (uptight characters who instantly mellow out over one joint are the lazy screenwriter’s favorite crutch). Even after they overcome their differences, it’s hard to believe these two would stick together. Befriending Ethan means not only putting up with his sociopathic habits like openly masturbating in front of other people, but ignoring that fact that he just accidentally shot you in the stomach.
Downey and Galifianakis (both criminally overexposed at this point, it must be acknowledged) don’t seem to put a lot of effort into their one-note performances. A random bunch of cameos (Jamie Foxx, Juliette Lewis, Danny McBride) are thrown in to little effect. (The RZA as an airport screener? Why?) As the characters continue to grate, what little goodwill the film might of had wears thin. The overall effect is more irritating than funny. If you were hoping for a hilarious follow-up to The Hangover, I’m afraid you’re going to have to wait until the official sequel. This mirthless car wreck isn’t worth rubbernecking.