Hollywood has this terribly frustrating tendency of jumping on whatever is fresh, popular and exciting and riding it relentlessly until it collapses, left sprawled out and wheezing in the carpool lane of Sepulveda Boulevard. “Transformers” was a global smash, so they cranked out the craptacular “G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra,” another movie based on a Hasbro action figure. And Michael Cera killed it as a meek, virginal teen in “Superbad,” so they had him rework the same character in “Nick and Norah,” “Year One” and more.
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“Due Date,” the new film from Todd Phillips (“The Hangover”), is yet another example of this, as it’s nothing more than an attempt to piggyback on the popularity of its two lead actors. The world was treated to the miraculous emergence of two actors over the past few years: Robert Downey Jr., who pulled his face out of a mountain of cocaine and reclaimed Hollywood stardom with his endlessly sarcastic performance in “Iron Man,” and Zach Galifianakis, who was plucked from his career of bizarre stand-up routines and minor supporting roles to become an overnight sensation with his performance in “The Hangover.”
The two were cast in “Due Date” to play their divergent comedic styles against each other, but the movie fails precisely because it forces the audience to watch them play the exact same roles they always do. In this movie, Downey Jr.’s character is a mild variation of Tony Stark as he spits out snarky dialogue and Galifianakis once again acts as a man-child who says and does socially frowned-upon (read: disgusting) things.
Even the greatest joke in the world isn’t as funny the umpteenth time you hear it, and watching “Due Date” shows how quickly novelty can fade. Galifianakis was uproarious in “The Hangover” because his blend of non-sequiturs, slapstick and deadpan delivery had never been seen before. Similarly, audiences were blindsided by Downey Jr.’s samurai sword-sharp wit in “Iron Man” that has since become as dull as a butter knife after “Iron Man 2” and “Sherlock Holmes.” The freshness of their portrayals has faded away and the audience is stuck with their same old shtick for the entire movie.
And it doesn’t help the film that the plot is a complete clone of the 1987 classic “Planes, Trains and Automobiles,” another road-trip movie in which a high-strung businessman is forced to travel across the country with an eccentric fat guy he can’t stand, plowing through a series of unfortunate events to make it home for Thanksgiving — becoming fond of his traveling partner along the way. Just replace “Thanksgiving” with “the birth of his first child” and you have the story of “Due Date.”
The characters are recycled and the plot is a duplicate, but “Due Date” is not a complete waste of time. Much-needed cameos by RZA of the Wu-Tang Clan, Juliette Lewis (“Conviction”) and Danny McBride (TV’s “Eastbound and Down”) are spread intermittently throughout the film and break the constant barrage of Downey Jr.’s clever cynicism and Galifianakis’ outrageous stupidity.
The movie works extremely well when it decides to pause for a handful of sentimental scenes — coincidentally, this is where Downey Jr. and Galifianakis’s get to break character and have intelligent, moving discussions, acting like actual human beings for a change.
Despite all the criticism, Downey Jr. and Galifianakis do provide some quality laughs and “Due Date” is definitely a lot funnier than most movies out there. But it deserves a harsh scolding for acquiring such tremendous talent, reprocessing characters and story ideas, serving it up to the audience and calling it Lamb Vindaloo. Lamb Vindaloo it is not.