Since Zach Galifianakis is in every movie now — including Due Date, opening this week — it's high time to acknowledge out loud the funny weirdness that makes him work as a comedic actor. Galifianakis is funny. And he's weird.
Comedy probably shouldn't ever be disassembled further than that, except to say that Galifianakis has seemingly stepped into the Will Ferrell mode of actors capable of way-off-kilter characters who can carry tent-pole, big-budget movies. The difference between Ferrell and Galifianakis is that the former is able to mix into his broadest performances an idiot everyman aspect that grounds his characters in the Hollywood-acceptable comedic norm.
Galifianakis, though, is more unpredictable and seems a little dangerous. I suspect it's the beard. This effect may normalize over time, but for now he's still capable of surprising audiences. In Due Date, he plays Ethan Tremblay, a straight-up oddball who's set to fly from Atlanta to L.A. with the ashes of his recently deceased father. He is encountered by Peter Highman (Robert Downey Jr.), an architect also traveling to California, to be there for the birth of his first child. A mix-up gets the pair kicked off the airplane, and a jumble of plot twists puts them in the same rental car heading west across America.
What really works about Due Date is that, for all of Ethan's eccentricity — he's both a hairy-belly slob and prissy — the ostensible straight man, Peter, does the most socially inappropriate things of all. Sometimes you get the feeling from Downey that he's mining his rough-and-tumble history for some of the characters he plays. It seemed that way in Zodiac, and it seems that way in Due Date. Peter is full of rage simmering just below the surface, and there are a couple uproarious scenes in which he does things that people just don't do. Downey maybe should be in every movie now.
Due Date is stuffed with good actors in small roles who each supply a little bit of fuel for the fire. Michelle Monaghan is the pregnant wife back in L.A.; Jamie Foxx is Peter's best friend who lends a hand in the middle of the road trip; Danny McBride is a Western Union clerk who humbles an obnoxious Peter; Juliette Lewis is a Birmingham weed dealer; and RZA is an airport security guard who establishes the tone for the film right at the beginning.
The film is kind of structured as a tutorial for the expectant father. The childlike Ethan and much of the rest of the cast provide a gauntlet for the childish Peter to endure as he (hopefully) matures as a man and becomes capable and worthy of being someone's dad. The payoff isn't great, but as they say, the journey's the thing.
Due Date earns a hard R rating for language, drug use, and some sexual situations — mostly involving a masturbating dog, so, yeah, there's some potty humor in the film. It's directed by Todd Phillips, who did The Hangover and Old School, both overrated in my book, but people love those movies. Due Date is meaner, but it's not as mean-spirited.
Opening Friday, November 5th