By Neil Pond
In a year short on guffaws for grownups, you can finally buckle up for bust-out-laughing movie comedy.
In “Due Date,” Robert Downey Jr. and Zack Galifianakis play grounded air travelers tossed together for a bumpy cross-country road trip from Atlanta to Los Angeles. Downey’s character, Peter, is a harried married businessman trying to get home for the birth of his first child. Galifianakis plays Ethan, a prissy wannabe actor with his clueless sights set on stardom in “Two and a Half Men.”
The wacky wheels start rolling---and soon start falling off---as Ethan gets both himself and Peter placed on the airlines’ no-fly list. Against his better instincts (and in a bind without his wallet), Peter agrees to share Ethan’s rental car. Away we go!
It’s an R-rated romp, but a tad less raunchy---if such things can be quantified---than the breakout comedy from last year, “The Hangover,” from the same director, Todd Phillips. That movie also happened to put Galifianakis’ name on the Hollywood hot list. Burly, bearded and at ease with all sorts of buffoonery, he continues to be a gold mine of gross-out giggles.
And Downey, not necessarily known as a comedic actor, certainly more than holds his own when the funny starts flying.
Other familiar faces, including Juliette Lewis and Jamie Foxx, crop up briefly, but Downey and Galifianakis carry the movie from start to finish. Every scene spins around them, and they both look like they’re having a blast, spitting out the script’s hilarious one-liners and bouncing from one frantic antic to the next.
This odd couple’s escalating misadventures include a side trip for Ethan to purchase “glaucoma medication,” an assault by a disgruntled, wheelchair-bound Western Union employee, a daring escape from a Mexico border crossing and various gaffes (including a comedy staple, the “spit take”) built around a coffee can containing the cremated ashes of Ethan’s father.
There’s also a scene that can’t be detailed in a family newspaper, but it involves Ethan’s ritual for getting to sleep, and his little dog doing the same thing.
Behind the wild humor, however, is a warm heart. It’s no surprise that Peter and Ethan become soul mates through the ordeal they share, particularly when the movie taps into the recurring theme of fatherhood. It’s never sticky-sweet, but it warms up the wit with a welcome human touch of sentimentality.
It’s hard to miss the overtones of a certain other “road trip” comedy. Back in 1987, Steve Martin and John Candy were the thrown-together road companions, united by comedic circumstance and Thanksgiving travel plans.
“Planes, Trains and Automobiles” may have gotten there first. But Downey and Galifianakis start this year’s movie countdown to Christmas ho-ho-ho’s with a solid round of rousing ha-ha-ha’s. Leave the kiddies at home and get ready to laugh.