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Friday, Jan. 14, 2011

'Due Date'

Another provocative comedy from 'Hangover' duo

Radio stations tend to broadcast live material with a seven- second delay on their signal, so they can have a brief window to censor people dropping "F"-bombs and the like. Comedian Zach Galifianakis isn't really worried about being offensive — see "The Hangover" — but it often feels like there's a seven-second delay on his wickedly offhand one-liners. A film with Galifianakis will have already cut to the next scene when his last line — something like a weepy "Dad, you were like a father to me!" — finally erupts in your brain.

Due Date Rating: (4 out of 5)
Star Star Star Star Star
Playing for laughs: Zach Galifianakis (right) teams up once more with "The Hangover" director Todd Phillips for "Due Date," which also stars Robert Downey Jr (left). © 2010 WARNER BROS. ENTERTAINMENT INC.

Director: Todd Phillips
Running time: 95 minutes
Language: English
Opens Jan. 22, 2011
[See Japan Times movie listing]

Galifianakis, playing a strange and needy man-child infuriating his buddies on a lost weekend in Vegas, was a big factor behind the success of "The Hangover," which now stands as the highest-grossing R-rated comedy of all time. Think about that for a moment: The director of that movie, Todd Phillips, who started his career with a doc on ultra-underground and suicidal scato-punk icon G.G. Allin, is now a mainstream success.

Of course, in a post-"Jackass," post-"South Park" era, offensive is the new norm. I recall sitting in a sleepy hotel lounge deep in dusty Portugal last summer, trying to describe "Jackass" to some friends who had never seen it, only to notice that the other stragglers at the bar were chuckling at Steve-O's antics on local TV. Some people may despair and see this as a further descent into hopeless crudity and stupidity, but, you know, those people probably grew up watching "Animal House" and "The Three Stooges" themselves.

Offensiveness can become tiresome when served as the main course — again, see what "South Park" has become — but it certainly works as part of a balanced diet. That was key to success for "The Hangover," mixing its outrageous humor with some sly quips and a good sense of the absurd. Phillips gets the mix right again with "Due Date," which also features Galifianakis in the lead, this time paired opposite Robert Downey Jr.

"Due Date" is your classic odd-couple road movie but taken to hilarious extremes never imagined by Bing Crosby and Bob Hope. Downey Jr. plays Peter Highman, a West Coast professional who is on his way home from New York to be with his wife when their baby is delivered a few days hence. Disaster strikes when he meets Ethan Tremblay (Galifianakis), a walking disaster zone in acid-washed jeans who is blissfully unaware of exactly how obnoxious he is.

Peter is dealing with anger "issues" and tries to keep his boat from being rocked, but Ethan represents a squall of button-pushing. The pair's plane has barely left the tarmac when an altercation lands the two of them in federal custody, and placed on a no-fly list. Having lost his wallet and cell phone, Peter has no cash or credit cards to make his way home, and must reluctantly accept a ride from Ethan, who is moving to Los Angeles with the pipe dream of becoming an actor.

Peter gets a taste of where things are headed when Ethan makes a pit stop for his "glaucoma medication." (Cue a most excellent Juliette Lewis cameo as a white-trash dope dealer who's never seen "The Godfather.") A man can only take so much, and Peter snaps somewhere around the part with the masturbating pet dog. Nevertheless, before he reaches L.A. he must endure a violent paraplegic, a near-fatal auto wreck, the Mexican police, and Ethan being Ethan.

Downey Jr., so easily imaginable as the pot-smoking character ("A Scanner Darkly," anyone?), plays against type as the high-strung, straight businessman. We're initially quite sympathetic to his plight, but he's not afraid to look plain old mean, whether slugging a child in the stomach, insulting a war vet or spitting on a cute little dog.

Galifianakis plays it backhand, starting off annoying beyond belief, and then giving us a taste of the damaged little soul that resides within. And then he makes you want to kill him again: The film's best scene may be where Peter finally opens up to him, revealing a story from his youth about his absent dad, and Ethan — after a pause — bursts out laughing, about the most insensitive reaction one could possibly have.

Like "The Hangover," "Due Date" is very much a "bromance," with guys behaving badly and women depicted as those beings who exist on the other end of the phone with needs and obligations. These sort of movies live or die by their jokes, and while "Due Date" does offer plenty of coarse humor, there are some absolutely inspired bits as well — a strand about Ethan carrying around his cremated dad's ashes in a coffee can lurks around for the entire film, before finally getting a gut-bustingly funny pay-off near the end.

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