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Written by on November 4, 2010 

Following up the highest grossing R-rated comedy of all-time is admittedly a difficult task. With The Hangover, director Todd Phillips struck a funny bone goldmine with the pairing of Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms, Justin Bartha, and Zach Galifianakis. Without going straight to the obvious answer in the eyes of the studio, a sequel, Phillips took the highlight of his box office surprise, paired him with one of the hottest stars in Hollywood and went on the road with Due Date.

It should be a no-brainer knockout. But Phillips isn’t making the same feel-good, crowd-pleaser that was The Hangover. Due Date is an uncomfortable, often unpleasant film.  The crux of our journey lies with the back-and-forth banter between Downey and Galifianakis, two off-putting characters. Initially comedic, many jokes quickly turn into awkward moments of deep sadness or conflicting rage. Instead of making a straight-up laugh riot, Phillips experiments with these tonal shifts. While they may not completely succeed, his willingness to try something different is admirable.

Robert Downey Jr. is an expectant father who needs to get home to his wife (Michelle Monaghan) for the birth of their first child in LA. While at the Atlanta airport, we are introduced to Ethan Tremblay played by Zach Galifianakis, in a character reminiscent to his “twin brother” stand-up act Seth. Things go awry after an on-board mishap and the duo is forced to embark on a road trip across the country.

As seen last month in It’s Kind of a Funny Story, there is more Galifianakis has to offer than just laughs. Instead of the one-note character found in The Hangover, Phillips lets him expand to showcase this previously hidden dramatic talent. These skillful moments unfortunately don’t add up to much in the end, but the few that are there set this apart from a Planes, Trains & Automobiles knockoff.

Phillips also must be applauded for letting Downey, Jr. finally become a tremendous asshole. There are shades of this behavior in his Tony Stark and Sherlock Holmes roles, but it was always constricted for the safety of a mass audience. Here, he runs wild with it and it is a joy to watch. Many will see this as a fault of the film, but I’ve been waiting a good part of my life for Downey, Jr. to embrace a role such as this.

As the marketing suggests, if you like to see a despicable, angry Downey Jr. react to an ignorant, aloof Galifianakis, then you will be content. There are a few cameos to mix things up, but you are stuck with these two for the entire trip. Like any good road movie, Phillips slowly amps up the situations as we progress. For going off the beaten path with capturing layered characters, I wish he wouldn’t have landed on such an outlandish, then immediately predictable finale.

Like the similarly toned Observe & Report last year, Due Date won’t appeal to everyone. For those that share my amusement of watching these contemptible characters carry out their obnoxious exploits then this is the road trip comedy you’ve been waiting for.

7 out of 10

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