Robert Downey Jr. is usually the guy making other people upset with his wisecracks. So turnabout is only fair in Due Date, with him playing the foil -- to Zach Galifianakis.
The real foil, unfortunately, is the audience -- which will find itself in the not-unfamiliar situation of watching a comedy whose best jokes have been given away in the commercials and trailers for the film. Which makes for an awfully long time between laughs, even in a 95-minute movie.
Directed by Todd Phillips (The Hangover) from a script credited to four names, Due Date is essentially an update of Planes, Trains & Automobiles, the overrated John Hughes comedy from the late 1980s. That film teamed an uptight Steve Martin with an oversharing John Candy, who were forced to travel together from New York to Chicago, with a meager ratio of jokes-to-laughs.
So it is with this film, which shackles Downey to Galifianakis for an Atlanta-to-L.A. car trip. Downey is Peter, a control-freak architect whose wife is back in California, about to give birth to their first child. Galifianakis is Ethan, the Hollywood-bound, would-be actor he meets curbside at the Atlanta airport -- and winds up sitting in front of on the airplane.
But not for long: Ethan cluelessly starts chatting Peter up about terrorists and bombs, getting them both kicked off the plane and placed on a no-fly list. To add insult to injury, Peter's wallet is in his bag -- which is still on the plane to L.A. (C'mon - who does that?) So, while trying fruitlessly to steal a rental car, Peter reluctantly accepts a ride from Ethan, who has rented a Subaru to drive himself and his French bulldog Sunny to L.A.
As noted, if you've seen the commercials or the trailers, you've seen most of the film's funniest moments (though there are a couple more involving Downey, in a scene set in an Alabama weed dealer's house). Otherwise, you have to take what small pleasures you can from Downey's slow-burn and Galifianakis' bizarrely fey affect and random comments.
Otherwise, Due Date is only about half-funny. It plays OK for 20 minutes, then runs on fumes for the next hour. Not that Phillips' doesn't try: Downey and Galifianakis stumble into larger and increasingly elaborate situations, requiring ever-more-farfetched solutions (the one with the Mexican border beggars credibility, even for a dumb/smart comedy).
Downey is game as the punching bag through all of this, suffering one physical insult after another. But the humor -- while darker and meaner -- is rarely funnier. Phillips' physical gags get bigger and broader -- but with diminishing returns, laugh-wise. The director pushed many of the same slapstick buttons in The Hangover -- but the material there was obviously stronger. There was more to the joke than just the pratfall or its equivalent.
Downey is an actor who is constitutionally incapable of being uninteresting. But that's not the same thing as being able to elevate weak material. The same is true of the delightfully subversive Galifianakis: He's often funnier than the lines he's given. He finds moments to undercut the obvious and go someplace weirder and wittier. But, again, he can only do so much with a script that runs out of laughs before they're halfway across the country.
Downey and Galifianakis work it hard -- but there's just not much for them to work with in Due Date.