The popular myth that Hollywood has run out of original stories may have been partially proven by the chronically derivative Due Date which, not content with plundering every buddy movie that has preceded it, takes the liberty of essentially stripping Planes, Trains & Automobiles of its plot in an unsuccessful attempt to match the John Candy classic for laughs and poignancy. Incapable of realising such lofty ambitions, Todd Philips’s follow-up to The Hangover folds in on itself before the halfway mark, unable to shake off the nagging sense of déjà vu which pervades every comic set-up and odd-couple rift.
Indeed, the similarities between Due Date and its muse are so abundant one could legitimately accuse the former of plagiarism, or of being a remake at least. So, Steve Martin’s desperate clamouring to get home in time for Thanksgiving is replaced by Peter’s (Robert Downey Jr) frantic determination to be present for his child’s birth; John Candy’s deceased wife is re-imagined as Ethan’s (Zach Galifianakis) dead father – a departed loved one acting as a device in both films to ensure sentimentality; the trains swapped for…more automobiles.
Acquiescing to a palpable lack of creativity, the writers have retained all the schmaltz and no darkness, no more so than in their regurgitation of John Candy’s spirit of incompetence, channelling his performance through a marginally altered Ethan, a clumsy stoner whose natural disposition inherently irritates Peter, their fractious relationship modelled on Candy & Martin’s operatic personality clashes.
Shackled to the conventions of its road/buddy movie genres, Due Date’s most significant failing is its frequently predictable punch-lines, often signposted before the gag itself has even been told. In what is a characteristically unsubtle set-up, Ethan’s ‘casual’ revelation towards the end of a marathon car journey that he can ‘sleep through almost anything’, immediately alerts the audience to the fact he’ll soon doze off behind the wheel (a sequence which, it turns out, is reminiscent of the hair-raising motorway incident in Planes, Trains…)
Due Date is by no means an out-and-out disaster but its eyebrow raising resemblance to its superior predecessor inevitably becomes a distraction too far, unintentionally inviting the viewer, consciously or not, to constantly draw comparisons between the two films. Robert Downey Jr. continues to let words dribble from his barely open mouth with unobjectionable results whilst Zach Galifianakis’s turn as ‘loveable’ Ethan is too inoffensive to take any serious issue with, other than to perhaps lament his all-too reliable choice of role as the innocuous stoner-dude, a stock-in-trade character who could just have easily stumbled out of the haze of any other dope movie.
In a recent interview with Extra, Downey Jr. expressed an interest in collaborating with Galifianakis for The Hangover 2 which was either a throwaway remark carelessly tossed aside during a round of promotional interviews or a genuine desire having overestimated their on-screen chemistry this time round. However, if it was meant seriously, audiences will have to hope that Todd Phillips gets back in the zone.