Last night, just round the corner from the London Film Festival’s closing gala, I attended a screening of Todd Phillip’s latest, Due Date. Empire magazine recently grandly labelled Phillips “America’s funniest man” – perhaps a little hyperbolic, but with half a billion box office for his last effort, 2008′s hugely enjoyable The Hangover, Phillips now holds considerable clout in the comedy world.
Evidently, he has clearly been given free rein with Due Date, which, like The Hangover, follows the loose code that ‘everything that could go wrong, does go wrong’. Phillips here reunites with Zach Galifinakis, for whom The Hangover was his breakout role, and has the considerable talents of Robert Downey Jr to benefit from. Downey Jr plays uptight writer Peter Highman (say the surname out loud) who after a misunderstanding on a plane with a federal marshall is put on the the no-fly list, days before his pregnant wife’s due date. Like all the best buddy movies, he is forced into a situation beyond his control, in this case sharing a rental car with clueless actor Ethan Tremblay (Galifinakis) as they drive from Atlanta to LA.
After a slow start Due Date picks up with Phillip’s signature filmmaking style coming to the fore – a series of increasingly mad comic set pieces which crescendos to a big finish. It’s a madcap road trip bromance buddy movie, with derivations of all of those coming into play, often retreading similar ground to The Hangover. It also doesn’t quite share the same hit rate of successful gags as that film or Phillips’ other popular effort, 2003’s Old School. And like all of his films there is a very real danger that he is isolating the part of his audience who isn’t, y’know, like a dude, man – such is his defiantly blokey sense of humour.
But Due Date remains buoyant throughout thanks to the considerable chemistry of its two excellent leads. Downey Jr is on fine form, even if his slightly miscast as the neurotic asshole (the guy is far too likeable). But his comic sensibilities are terrifically well-tuned. And Galifinakis essentially plays the same character as he did in The Hangover – huge, sweaty, tactless, moronic, a child in a man’s body, but a man who has to masturbate “for about 35 minutes” before going to sleep, even if he sleeping in a car with someone else. And like his previous collaboration with the director, he is probably the best thing in it.
This will not go down as Phillips’ best movie (The Hangover Part 2 is coming next year, Mel Gibson or no Mel Gibson), nor his most original. But it holds a few sucker punches in its comedy arsenal, helped along by some sterling cameos – Juliette Lewis, Jamie Foxx and Danny McBride are all superb, and all contribute to what is one of the better comedies of the year. Even if you don’t buy into the frat-boy lowest-common-denominator level of jokes, there should be at least one belly laugh in there for you.