‘Due Date’ hilarious, yet sports unlikable characters

November 18th, 2010

It seems like every comedy since last year has been compared in quality and laughs-per-minute to “The Hangover.”

While it makes sense that the first movie to actually take that comparison head-on would come from both “The Hangover” director and one of its main actors, “Due Date” fails to be as memorable, as quotable, or as enduring.

Directed by Todd Phillips, “Due Date” is a “Plains, Trains, and Automobiles” -channeling the road trip/buddy comedy themes that should get credit for how it gets most of its laughs by situational character quirks rather than overused punchlines.

Peter (Robert Downey Jr.) is an expectant father who is on a mad dash to make it to Los Angeles for the birth of his first child.

Unfortunately, he crosses paths with Ethan (Zach Galifianakis), an aspiring actor who often gets caught in bad situations – from saying words like “bomb” and “terrorist” on a plane to picking up a gun and “accidentally” shooting someone.

With nowhere else to turn and now on a “no-fly” list because of Ethan, Peter has no choice but to catch a ride with Ethan to LA.

But when things just keep getting worse  the question is no longer whether Peter will get to his wife on time, but also whether or not he’ll kill his current companion before they get there.

There are quite a few laughs to be had here. Most of them are merely extended scenes of what we’ve already seen from the flawlessly comedic trailers. But there are some aspects not in the trailers that got a good laugh, from a true to life moment where Downey’s character indignantly said he’s never taken drugs, to a scene where a dog is doing something dogs shouldn’t do.

The best humor is circumstantial – from an unorthodox jail break to a drugged-up visit at the Mexican border to Peter arguing with a tin can. It’s all about how these characters interact.

Downey Jr. and Galifianakis are a riot together, channeling the timeless characteristics that make up charismatic pairings like Steve Martin/John Candy and Bud Abbott/Lou Costello.

Peter is by far the most no-nonsense straight guy ever, with Ethan taking the role as most annoying character ever.

His insane sense of logic never ceases to amaze, molding a character that is completely unexpected.

“Due Date” is a pretty consistent comedy, with very few flat scenes.

Less dirty and juvenile than most “hard-R” comedies, (meaning those comedies that contain lots of profanity, sexual content and other mature themes), it knows a little bit more than most comedies on what its trying to do, which makes it at times funnier than it deserves to be.

The one issue I have is how unlikable these two characters are. Usually I don’t have a problem with unlikable characters, but these guys go overboard in making the audience unable to connect with them.

We might feel for Downey’s Peter a bit more than he deserves, but he’s such a jerk that it’s surprising he has a wife waiting for him at all.

As for Galifianakis’ Ethan, he never finds that delicate balance between the lovable simpleton that Steve Carell nailed in “Dinner for Schmucks” and the downright irritant that David Spade has made a career in playing.

While they are always capable of making us laugh and even making us care, they never get us to like them.

Where comedies are concerned and what we expect from them, “Due Date” delivers in the promised laughs.