A year of honoring John Hughes---from an Oscars tribute in March to Emma Stone's shout-outs in Easy A---climaxes with director Todd Phillips's largely agreeable latest, essentially a remake of Planes, Trains & Automobiles. That 1987 comedy was a watershed for Hughes, who expanded his teencentric palette into middle-aged anxiety. It works the same way for the director of The Hangover: Phillips can still launch a dog-masturbation joke into the stratosphere, but the welcome surprise here is tenderness. Nervous dad-to-be Peter (Downey) has an architect's verbal preciseness, and there's real pathos in watching this man stripped of his luggage, wallet and identity, and placed on the no-fly list by overzealous airport security. (Seeing Downey play a drug-free prig has its chucklesome rewards.)
Peter's nemesis, flung into his life, is Ethan (Galifianakis), a pot-addled, strangely needy Hollywood hopeful with a luxuriant perm. Ethan has masterful powers of infuriation, yet also a working credit card and rental car. Since his riotous arrival in The Hangover, Zach Galifianakis has come pretty close to becoming an overexposed beard. But here, in the John Candy role, a fuller picture comes into view---the guy can really act, and with his butt-clenched walk and touchiness, he daringly takes the character into an indeterminate sexuality. Ethan makes some pretty grand mistakes; he's almost a test baby for Peter's incipient fatherhood. The best scenes in Due Date are their arguments and make-up moments, one staged at the Grand Canyon, when the movie feels closer to a Wenders-like relationship drama than anything else. Phillips goes too far sometimes (border-jail breakout?), but his new direction is promising.
Watch the trailer