Good road movies are easy. Great ones, those are hard. Good road movies deliver a few laughs and at least one scene involving the excessive use of alcohol and drugs, and then get out of the way so you can get on with your life. Great road movies bring wildly different people together, thrust them into difficult circumstances, and when it’s over they emerge irrevocably changed by it. In the process maybe the movie comments on society or says something substantive about the human condition. It’s a genre which has contributed more indisputably great films to our culture than almost any other, and no, Road Trip isn’t on that list. Due Date was made by people who have seen great road movies, and think they understand them. Specifically Due Date was made by people who have seen what is perhaps the greatest road movie ever made, the 1987 John Hughes comedy Planes, Trains, and Automobiles, and believed they could duplicate its brilliant success by borrowing its premise. They were wrong.
The problem is, perhaps, that Todd Phillips doesn’t have anything substantive in him. He’s been responsible for at least two, instantly classic comedies in The Hangover and Old School, but even those are only great because they’re so joyously shallow that you can’t help but walk away loving them. Phillips’ movies work by being as ridiculous and raunchy as they are light and airy. But in borrowing Planes, Trains, and Automobiles premise he’s locked himself into making a movie with something real buried inside it, and he either doesn’t recognize it or simply has no idea what to do with it.
So Due Date ends up as a movie in which a couple of characters it doesn’t really seem to understand journey across the country encountering a series of mostly unrelated, funny bits. Those bits never really tap into anything, or do much to develop the characters as people. They simply go through the motions of everything they’re supposed to go through in this type of movie, in much the way Planes, Trains, and Automobiles did it, except none of what they’re doing, no matter how many dead fathers or pregnant possibly cheating wives are thrown into the mix, ever actually means anything.
Two utter assholes meet in airport. One is an uptight, straight-laced, businessman. The other is a slightly more effeminate version of Zach Galifianakis’s character from The Hangover but is really just a less funny John Candy with a lot less heart. Circumstances thrust these two men together and they end up on a cross-country journey by car, where they’ll hate each other for awhile and then, when the movie has gotten all the mileage it can out of that, become fast friends. They’ll become fast friends because they smoke some of that hallucinogenic marijuana which doesn’t exist in real life, but seems to be everywhere in movies, I assume as part of some sort of tobacco industry plot to make sure you can’t smoke a joint without going to prison.
When it’s over they’ll be the same people they were when it started, and you’ll walk away from the theater the same person you were when you walked in. You’ll have had a few laughs while you sat in the dark watching two idiots, but odds are you won’t remember any of jokes behind them on your drive home, except maybe the one where they drink Zach’s father and even then only because that’s used in the movie’s commercials. Nothing that happens to Robert Downey Jr. in Due Date is even half as funny as anything that happened to him the last time he was in a buddy movie, and Kiss Kiss Bang Bang isn’t even a comedy. Zach Galifianakis you’re no Gay Perry, let alone John Candy.