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Due Date

A Zach Attack

Rating: 2 out of 5 stars.

Moviegoers will have to wait until next year for the sequel to last year’s surprise box-office hit, The Hangover, but The Hangover’s director, Todd Phillips (School for Scoundrels, Old School, Road Trip), and one of its stars, Zach Galifianakis, have reunited for Due Date, an R-rated road comedy that pairs the portly, bearded Galifianakis with Robert Downey, Jr. (Iron Man 1 and 2, Sherlock Holmes, Tropic Thunder, Chaplin). The end result, however, is a disappointing misfire that wastes the talents of everyone involved.

Due Date centers on Peter Highman (Robert Downey Jr.), an architect in Atlanta on business, and Ethan Tremblay (Zach Galifianakis), unemployed actor visiting the West Coast to scatter his late father’s ashes and become a working actor, maybe even on his favorite show, “Two-and-a-Half Men.”

Highman just wants to get back home to Los Angeles to witness the birth of his first child with his wife, Sarah (Michelle Monaghan). A misunderstanding involving an overzealous, quick-triggered air marshal, however, leaves Highman and Tremblay on a no-fly list. An MIA wallet (and thus credit cards and IDs) leaves Highman with little choice but join Tremblay and his French Bulldog, Sonny, on a cross-country drive in a rented car.

Highman quickly learns to despise the overly inquisitive, desperate Tremblay, but agrees to a detour that takes them to eccentric Alabama pot dealer, Heidi (Juliette Lewis, cast to type). In the first disturbing scene of Highman’s anger management issues, Highman handles an encounter with an obnoxious preteen violently. It’s meant to be shocking, because it breaks one of the few social conventions in the comedy genre (i.e., violence against children) left. Phillips may succeed in wringing laughs from the scene (an open question), but in the process it makes Highman unlikeable, and maybe even unredeemable as a character.

The “hits” literally keep on coming. Time and again, including an unfortunate encounter (for Highman) with an easily offended ex-Iraqi veteran, Lonnie (Danny McBride), Phillips turns to threats of violence or bursts of unexpected violence for laughs, but given the realistic setting, his reliance on violence-based humor suggests a lack of creativity. Highman repeatedly threatens Tremblay with physical violence (e.g., choking him out for one of his many transgressions).

Downey, Jr. brings the charm as Highman (did you expect anything less?), but Phillips makes Highman a temperamental, intolerant, smug, egotistical character. Highman is like Tony Stark, but without the wit or self-awareness of his personality flaws or consistently bad choices. Worse, Phillips doesn’t make the eventual, inevitable transformation credible or convincing (far from it). He begins and ends as an unlikeable character, making the final, underwritten scenes between Highman and Tremblay and Highman and his wife unengaging.

As for Galifianakis, he could have easily stepped off the set of The Hangover and on to Due Date both in slovenly physical appearance and character type. Galifianakis again plays a socially awkward, consistently clueless, physically clumsy character overwhelmed by delusions of friendship with the central character. As Tremblay, he's the object of ridicule, humiliation, and violence. Any laughter that results from Tremblay’s behavior is a direct result of condescension (ours, not his). Ultimately, that should be reason enough to allow Due Date to expire, sight unseen.