Road trips always seem to make funny movies. The discomfort of those forced to endure another irritating person or having to make do with a bad situation are situations we’ve all been faced with. So why not get a laugh out of the same thing at someone else’s expense? It made the hilarious PLANES TRAINS AND AUTOMOBILES one of the funniest movies even after 23 years. Yes it has been that long. Who better to take the reins from Steve Martin and John Candy than Robert Downey Jr. and Zach Galifianakis?
DUE DATE begins with architect Peter Highman (Downey) trying to make it home from Atlanta in time for the birth of his son. He begins by nearly being killed as he exits his limo by some yokel dropping off Ethan Trembly (Galifianakis). This leads to a misunderstanding (and some hilarity as Ethan attempts to put his luggage in the overheard) leaving Peter on the no-fly list, suspected of terrorism. Who else is there to blame but the goofy Ethan?
With his wallet packed and on the plane, Peter searches for a way home. Fortunately, or perhaps unfortunately, one presents itself when Ethan shows up with a rental car insisting that Peter join him for the road trip to LA. And so begins one of the most famous road trips that has some of the funniest moments in a comedy of late.
As the pair travel we get to see Peter as a stick in the mud, serious person with little room for anything in his life other than his own needs. On the other hand Ethan moves about willy nilly without a care in the world, looking at the trip as fun and taking care of his pet dog Sonny. In point of fact, this trip will change both men. Peter will learn in the oddest way possible what it means to be a father and take care of someone. Ethan will face the reality of his father’s death.
That’s another part of the story. Along for the ride carried in a coffee can are the ashes of Ethan’s recently deceased father. As Peter maps out their route to get them there in time, Ethan mentions that the Grand Canyon would be a great place for his father’s ashes to which Peter informs him that it’s miles out of their way. The topic comes up again later with a different location, each time revealing something more about Ethan.
The duo make their way cross country, stopping to pick up some weed (it’s medicinal for Ethan’s “glaucoma”), crashing their car, finding they have no money, a run in with a vet at Western Union and more. Each scene seems to offer more laughs than the last and no, I won’t spoil them by giving you details here. Suffice to say that there were moments that I had to either pause the movie or back it up once I stopped laughing.
But there is a sweetness to this movie as well. And that’s another thing that reminded me of the earlier PLANES. We have two characters, both stuffy and all businesslike that end up next to someone with a lot of well hidden pain in their life. The question becomes less about the physical trip and more about the emotional one that they both make.
Downey shines here as the jerk that has the best intentions in his decisions, a man who is fearful that he won’t make the birth of his child. Short tempered most of the time and very caring at others, he makes the journey to fatherhood over the miles. Galifianakis turns in his usual solid performance as the waif who needs something more in his life. His trip to Hollywood in hopes of being an actor, even though his character shows little ability, shows the dreams that so many have. My biggest fear with him is that he will find himself pigeonholed into these same roles. This one seems very much like the one he played in THE HANGOVER. It’s a curse that many comedic actors fall into but few rise out of. Take a look at Pauley Shore for a bad example.
The movie offers some terribly crude moments that are sure to offend some and make others laugh till their sides split. For the sake of my family I’ll plead the fifth (although one scene involving both Ethan and Sonny made me laugh harder when I saw the shocked look on my wife’s face while we watched the movie). And when the final sequence shows, amazingly enough during the whole Charlie Sheen brouhaha of late, you’ll find yourself touched by these two men and the trip they took. It’s a fun film that most will enjoy and will inspire at least a smile or two from everyone.