By John Mulderig
Source: Catholic News Service
In director John Hughes' 1987 hit "Planes, Trains and Automobiles," two comic geniuses, Steve Martin and John Candy, played unlikely companions thrown together on a mishap-plagued journey home for Thanksgiving.
Tinged with tenderness, the proceedings eventually saw the two become friends after Martin's character discovered the endearing qualities lurking beneath Candy's bumbling ways.
Though it traces a similar arc, and invites comparison with Hughes' film, the sour comedy "Due Date" (Warner Bros.) is marked by a profoundly different tone: hard-edged, mean-spirited and, at times, violent.
Perhaps not surprisingly—given that director and co-writer (with Alan R. Cohen and Alan Freedland) Todd Phillips is best known for helming last year's morally anarchic but widely popular "The Hangover"—this frequently unpleasant odyssey also detours into comic portrayals of marijuana smoking and aberrant sexual behavior.
Phillips' odd-couple buddy flick follows the misadventures of disaster-prone aspiring actor Ethan Tremblay (Zach Galifianakis), who's on his way to Hollywood in search of sitcom stardom, and uptight architect Peter Highman (Robert Downey Jr.), who's rushing home to Los Angeles for the birth of his first child.
After Ethan gets them involved in a misunderstanding that sees them both kicked off their flight from Atlanta and placed on the no-fly list, Peter—having lost ID, cash and credit cards in the incident—is left with no option but to drive to the West Coast in the company of his newfound nemesis.
Ethan, a somewhat effeminate man-boy, his hair permed in curls, his soft shoes from ballet manufacturer Capezio, displays a breezy disregard for all forms of common sense so grating that Peter's mounting fury with him seems entirely justifiable. All the more so when Ethan's supposedly amusing eccentricities turn out to include a taste for pot and a habit of lulling himself to sleep via self-gratification.
As the scene queasily showcasing the latter vice makes clear, Ethan's daily indulgence in it is in no way curbed by the proximity of his traveling companion a few feet away.
The script uses the recent death of Ethan's father to try to offset the nuisance factor and win sympathy. But its hesitant forays into gentleness are consistently thwarted by nasty interludes like a rumble with a stick-wielding, wheelchair-bound Iraq War veteran and an exchange in which Peter reveals a painful childhood secret, only to have Ethan laugh in his face.
The film contains drug trafficking and use, masturbation, about a half-dozen instances of profanity, pervasive rough and much crude language as well as some sexual jokes and references. The Catholic News Service classification is O—morally offensive. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is R—restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.
John Mulderig is on the staff of Catholic News Service.
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