Saturday, November 6, 2010

Due Date (2010, Phillips)

Rating: ***

With all its lazy sitcom writing and its grating overload of dog reaction shots, Due Date strikes me as this year’s most rousing comedy, thanks to a happy pairing of two extremely odd and brilliant comic actors. The volatile straight man Robert Downey, and the hirsute nutball Zach Galifianakis make a great team together.

Todd Phillips doesn’t have the scale (or sensitivity) of, say, Jonathan Demme: his mix of abrupt action sequences and run-of-the-mill character comedy is purely mechanical, and never does it account for a genuine shift in tone. The shocking jolts (car crash, gunshot, etc.) keep coming and never truly disrupt the characters’ comic rapport with the audience. Still, it’s due to Phillips’ remarkable timing that those jolts aren’t just slapstick effects devoid of consequences. There’s a dark, surrealistic streak in Phillips that came to light a year ago in The Hangover (2009), and is on display in Due Date, as well.

The new movie is more dutiful in hanging onto generic rewards offered by the buddy movie, but the oddity of particular choices made by Downey and Galifianakis defy all conventions. (The scene in which Downey spits in the little mutt’s muzzle in ager has a raw energy that’s both scary and convulsively funny.)

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