Due Date
Directed by Todd Phillips
Starring: Zach Galifianakis, Robert Downey Jr.
Rated R for language, drug use and sexual content
1 hr. 40 min.

In 2004, before Will Ferrell became an above-the-title star, he was cast in Todd Phillips’ ensemble buddy-comedy Old School.  The film, which aged fairly well for the genre, cobbled together Luke Wilson and Vince Vaughn as the “Godfather” and financial backer of a frat house that anyone — mostly middle-aged non-students — could join. Ferrell was the comedic backbone as the flailing, newly separated buddy who decides to crash at the house in order to avoid seeing his wife. Stealing multiple scenes as the drunk “Frank the Tank,” Ferrell emerged from the film as a viable headliner. He was then fast-tracked to superstardom with Elf before taking a Sandleresque turn to make the same movie (mostly riffing on sports clichés) over and over again.

If anything can be gleaned from the career arc of Ferrell, it’s this: he works best when he’s integrated into the group of guys à la Old School or in small doses, as in Wedding Crashers. (Elf was an anomaly.) The same should be said for Zach Galifianakis, who also appears to be being groomed by Todd Phillips to carry the torch of the gleefully oblivious man-child for the next decade or so.

Galifianakis’s Old School moment occurred in 2009’s smash-hit The Hangover, right about at the point he uttered the word “retard” with the accent on “tard.” The film took the tried-and-true “Vegas gone horribly wrong” genre and slyly injected it with a Dude, Where’s My Car amnesia trip to lead audiences through a bizarre ride through the landmarks of Sin City. It worked. So Warner Brothers decided to cut out the middlemen of the Hangover gang for a quick pseudo-sequel with Robert Downey Jr. thrown in to act exasperated at the antics of Galifianakis.

Welcome to Due Date, an atypical road-trip comedy that relies heavily on the talents of Galifianakis, and manages to give audiences too much of a good thing. Playing nearly the same character as he did in The Hangover, the hirsute comedian spends most of his time singularly annoying Robert Downey Jr.’s architect while they traverse the nation on a mission to make it back before Downey Jr.’s child is born.

How did these two disparate fellows wind up cashless in a cheap rental car, driving on a dusty highway accompanied by a masturbating pet dog? It happened quickly, in a brief scuffle on the departing plane where Galifianakis tripped up his co-star, and they both wound up on a “no-fly” list after being shot at by an air marshal. Don’t try to make sense of it.

The rest of the film acts as a sketch platform for both actors to banter with each other in various venues: the rental cars, a rest stop bathroom, a vista next to the Grand Canyon, a Mexican border patrol trailer, various hospitals, etc.

What results are a few brilliantly unhinged scenes and laugh-out-loud punch lines. (“Check yourself before you wreck yourself” is supposed to be the next oft-recited “retard” phrase.) Still, far too many of these fell flat, if only because Galifianakis relied on the same joke — and ample servings of obtuse “Michael Scott” logic — to carry the film.

Just imagine Due Date as simply the result of Todd Phillips cashing in his Hangover capital by having Warner Brothers bankroll a lengthy cross-country road trip with a couple of friends. Sure, the nagging plot gets in the way at a few junctures, but the odd-couple humor fits well on the evenly matched duo.

erik@vcreporter.com