***½/**** Image A Sound A Extras C-
starring Robert Downey Jr., Zach Galifianakis, Jamie Foxx, Michelle Monaghan
screenplay by Alan R. Cohen & Alan Freedland and Adam Sztykiel & Todd Phillips
directed by Todd Phillips
screenplay by Alan J. Schoolcraft & Brent Simons
directed by Tom McGrath
by Ian Pugh SPOILER WARNING IN EFFECT. Peter Highman (Robert Downey Jr.) is eager to fly out of Atlanta back to Los Angeles to witness the birth of his child, but a chance encounter with wannabe actor/lone weirdo Ethan Tremblay (Zach Galifianakis) lands the pair on a no-fly list and leaves Peter without his luggage or his wallet. With no alternatives, Peter becomes Ethan's unwilling passenger--taking a seat alongside a small dog and the ashes of Ethan's late father--on a road trip west. There appears to be a general consensus that the premise of Todd Phillips's Due Date too closely resembles that of John Hughes's Planes, Trains & Automobiles, but there's a vital difference in that Due Date's lead characters are legitimately crazy. The exasperated straight man is re-imagined as a sneering jerk full of jealousy and rage (Downey Jr. maintains a cold, sweaty stare throughout), while the lovable klutz is a dangerously irresponsible lout. Roger Ebert once wrote that the Hughes film was about "empathy [and] knowing what the other guy feels." So it is; by virtue of its characters, Due Date bypasses empathy altogether, yet it still talks about treating other people with a modicum of compassion. Phillips has finally made a naughty comedy that contemplates the consequences of its actions. Here's a movie in which a father-to-be grows so frustrated with an annoying boy that he socks him in the stomach, then unknowingly mocks a disabled veteran (Danny McBride) and gets his ass kicked for it.
The trick to Due Date is that it cannot be considered a "buddy comedy." Peter and Ethan are never buddies--and as they amass various traumas and injuries, just about every instance of genuine affection shared by these two men owes itself to the influence of pot, Vicodin, or blood loss. ("Oh, God, the pain is extraordinary," Peter cheerfully remarks as he tosses back a few pills to ease a broken arm.) But in this tale, there comes a point when "liking" someone is no longer material to the conversation. There's an odd moment near the beginning of the journey that sets the tone: a silly acting exercise leaves Ethan in tears, crying out for his lost father, and the entire audience at my screening, unsure of how to react, laughed out loud until it dawned on us that the scene was being played straight. A short while later, Peter reaches out to his new "friend" and shares a story about how his father abandoned him as a child. This time it's Ethan who bursts out laughing. So who are the assholes in this scenario, exactly? Everyone?
It's a straight-up denial of all the bromance bullshit Phillips has revered in the past, leaving you with a couple of self-absorbed jackasses who have no idea how to talk to anyone, much less each other. (In a casual turnaround of The Hangover's homophobia, Ethan repeats a phrase he doesn't quite seem to understand: "What are you, a girl or something?" It suggests that he's been subject to this insult in the past.) Every act of kindness is met with suspicion and hostility, though even as the cross-country antics of these two men become progressively more outrageous and unforgivable, they continue to turn the other cheek. Given several opportunities to part company, they repeatedly drift back together--whether or not it's a reflection of their respective father/abandonment issues, they're bound by some vague sense of loneliness and common decency. Again, they never actually bond as friends (a phone call from Ethan goes unanswered at the tail end of the film), and they probably don't earn that besides. In some perverse way, however, they deserve one another--their numerous flaws combining to almost form a fully-functional human being. Due Date is a sad and urgent picture, perhaps the closest possible equivalent to a comic version of Erick Zonca's Julia. It boggles the mind.
The well-meaning schlub/antisocial creep reversal is also present in Megamind, a transparent case of Brad Bird envy from DreamWorks Animation. The titular alien (voice of Will Ferrell) certainly plays to archetype, but you'll find a scarier portrait in stocky cameraman Hal (Jonah Hill), who pines for Lois Lane manqué Roxanne Ritchi (Tina Fey) and lobs disturbing pick-up lines at her to no avail. When supervillain Megamind finally kills the heroic Metroman (Brad Pitt, although the character looks to be modelled on Pitt's frequent co-star George Clooney) after years of conflict, he decides to replicate his nemesis's powers in someone else to keep up the good fight. The accidental recipient of those powers is Hal, who rapidly abuses them and throws a tantrum once getting the girl still proves impossible. Another nexus point between Due Date and Megamind finds its central misfits imitating Marlon Brando: Ethan performs a poor rendition of The Godfather's opening monologue; Megamind disguises himself as Jor-El to train Hal in an extended spoof of Superman. Both films are, at heart, about immature men who, in trying to channel Brando's star power and sex appeal, fail to realize that they're also inheriting his brutish machismo--fair enough indication that the self-pitying nerd might be as big an asshole as the muscle-bound jock. In which case, maybe Megamind doesn't parody comic books so much as the clip-outs contained therein, playing out as it does like a sort of space-age Charles Atlas ad.
But it's just not developed enough, and ancient gags about superhero conventions can't fill the gap. The fatal mistake is this assumption that movies like Superman don't already have a sense of humour about themselves and, furthermore, the idea of a superpowered stalker was already addressed in Superman Returns. Bad superhero films are constantly amazed to learn that grey areas exist between good and evil; good superhero films actually bother to explore the eternal struggle to do good. Nearly all of the jokes in Megamind fall flat, and despite his uneasy transition from villain to hero, Megamind himself isn't a strong enough character to carry a feature-length story. Say this for the film, though: at least it's more visually dynamic than Despicable Me. Originally published: November 5, 2010.
THE BLU-RAY DISC - DUE DATE
by Bill Chambers Warner brings Due Date to Blu-ray in an impeccable 2.40:1, 1080p transfer encoded with MPEG-4 compression. (The studio seems to have finally stopped using the problematic VC-1 codec on current titles.) Like The Hangover, the previous collaboration between director Todd Phillips and DP Lawrence Sher, the film ports extremely well to the format, the high-contrast image boasting vibrant colours, crisp detail (including a sharp, clean grain structure), and impressive depth. It's showcase stuff that honours the costumers' attention to Robert Downey Jr.'s deteriorating wardrobe as well as the narrative of his stubble. If a nighttime car chase is nearly indecipherable, blame lies more with the sequence's murky staging than with this HiDef presentation. An attendant 5.1 DTS-HD MA track reproduces a deep but narrow mix that's par for the bromance course; dynamic range is excellent--at no time will you be riding the volume control.
Extras begin with--SPOILER ALERT--"The Complete 'Two and a Half Men' Scene Featuring Ethan Tremblay" (3 mins., HD). Running about a minute longer than the excerpt within Due Date proper, it features a previously-unseen appearance by the show's titular "half man," Angus T. Jones. Three "Deleted Scenes" (4 mins., HD) are really extensions of existing scenes, least negligibly the drug-fuelled discussion of "Two and a Half Men", which here encompasses Ethan voicing his (surprisingly timely) opinion on who is the true "linchpin" of that series. ("A few radicals think it's Jones.") The "Gag Reel" (7 mins., HD) is an interminable collection of Zach Galifianakis compulsively clearing his throat and Downey Jr. cracking up at his antics (sometimes disingenuously, it seems like), while "Due Date: Too Many Questions" (HD) is a 41-second montage of Ethan relentlessly grilling Peter. Lastly, "Due Date: Action Mash-Up" (HD) is a 30-second compilation of the characters doing anything remotely energetic. It's a joke that wasn't funny on The Hangover's Blu-ray, either. Blu-ray hype plus previews for a new Mortal Kombat game and the dire-looking Hall Pass cue up on startup. Due Date's retail DVD, which also contains a Digital Copy of the film, closes out the package. Originally published: February 21, 2011.