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Written by: Alan R. Cohen, Alan Freedland, Adam Sztykiel and Todd Philips

Directed by: Todd Philips

Starring: Robert Downey Jr., Zack Galifianakis, Michelle Monaghan

Watching Due Date serves as a reminder that director Todd Philips’ The Hangover (2009) was probably a stroke of amazing good fortune. That film was a remarkably sharp and refreshing comedy. Due Date is a weak attempt to cash in on the success of The Hangover, and is much more in-line with some of Philips’ other films School For Scoundrels (2006), Old School (2003) and Road Trip (2000), which were juvenile and based on a small plot-point stretched much too far.

Due Date tells the story of Peter (Robert Downey Jr.), a handsome, sarcastic business man stuck with a short, chubby, desperate fool named Ethan (Zack Galifianakis) as they drive across the country to get home. Sound familiar? With Due Date its as though Philips makes a retelling of Planes, Trains and Automobiles (1987) but leaves out any trace of what made that film great. Downey Jr. phones it in as he more-or-less plays himself. Galifianakis doesn’t really get much of a chance to do anything very funny because his character is so ridiculous. What made his character in The Hangover such a revelation was the desperation and isolation lurking beneath  the surface of a socially inept buffoon. Here, the character of Ethan Tremblay is so absurd and wacky that he only ever feels like a character created to be irritating in a movie. Ethan could never exist in the real world, and Galifianakis’ attempts to infuse the character with some humanity fall short, a result of the poor material he has to work with.

Philips misses every opportunity to tell a beautiful story by over-inflating every scenario and going too far out of the way for a lame joke. The trip across America is composed of short vignettes involving very thin set-ups followed by over-wrought punchlines. There are cameos by Juliette Lewis, Danny McBride, The RZA and others, but they all feel like the characters only exist for “hey it’s — !” value. Philips goes out of his way to suggest that Peter’s wife is having an affair, but then just sort of abandons that plot thread after a while. There is one of the most absurd (not to mention pointless) pot-smoking scenes I’ve ever seen in a film. The music is so blocky and obvious that there are times it feels as though Due Date‘s soundtrack was compiled by a high school theatre student.

As I watched Due Date I found myself wondering, over and over, why such high caliber talent are attached to such a mediocre film. Throughout the film, Philips winks at myriad other, better, films and one gets the sense that Philips has no idea what makes those movies so wonderful. I don’t think Philips even knows why The Hangover was so good, as he forgoes the humanity and heart in favour of dragged-out premises and dull gags.