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Due Date

In his new film Due Date, director Todd Phillips (Old School, The Hangover) stages a rather audacious cinematic experiment, placing two enormously talented actors, Robert Downey Jr. and Zach Galifianakis, on a mostly deserted island, handing them an assortment of blunt and broken tools, and charging them with constructing a free-standing, fully-functioning Hollywood comedy.

To his credit, Phillips was at least considerate enough to supply his comic Crusoes with a detailed blueprint. An odd-couple/road trip movie hybrid, Due Date unapologetically mimics Planes, Trains and Automobiles, one of the John Hughes' rare "grown-up" comedies, in which Steve Martin starred as a straightlaced family man forced to travel cross-country with a gratingly affable slob, played by John Candy, in order to make it home for Thanksgiving. (Surely there have been other such films before and since, but Hughes' work is the one Due Date most vividly recalls.)

The film's script, co-written by Phillips and Adam Sztykiel, adds a handful of 21st-century twists to the formula: A baggage snafu while boarding an airplane leads Peter Highman (Downey), a type-A architect with a history of anger-management issues, into a confrontation with a Federal Air Marshal that subsequently lands him on Homeland Security's no-fly list. Stranded without reliable transport, lacking the means by which to procure any (he left his wallet on the plane), and desperate to be reunited in L.A. with his pregnant wife (Michelle Monaghan) in time for her scheduled c-section, he reluctantly agrees to hitch a ride with the same tubby schmuck, Ethan (Galifianakis), who moments earlier was the catalyst of his security debacle.

The unlikely travel companions embark on a calamitous road trip from Atlanta to L.A., during which Ethan proves to be something of a disaster magnet, with Peter bearing the brunt of the damage that occurs. Their navigator, Phillips, lazily guides them through an uneven obstacle course of comic scenarios, some of which are embarrassingly predictable (Ethan stores his beloved father's ashes in a coffee can, and they're later accidentally used to make coffee!), all of which are designed to showcase Downey's caustic wit and Galifianakis' sublime daffiness.

Few actors today deliver choice insults better than Downey, and even fewer absorb them better than Galifianakis. They make for a truly marvelous collision of opposites, and their interplay is what elevates Due Date above its often puzzlingly flat material. (That, along with Galifianakis' gift for physical comedy; no actor outside of the Jackass crew can better sell a collision with a car door.) The film's supporting cast, meanwhile, criminally underachieves. Conspicuous cameos from the likes of Danny McBride, Juliette Lewis, and Jamie Foxx are either unfunny, unnecessary, or both. On this road trip, they're little more than baggage. Thankfully, Downey and Galifianakis are more than capable of shouldering the burden. rated this film 3 stars.