By Steve Persall
Times Film Critic
After the hangover comes the time when rational folks swear they'll never again do whatever made them woozy. Then they do it again, which isn't as much fun since they know what's coming around the binge.
After The Hangover comes Due Date, another round of raunchy shenanigans no more surprising than that second morning after. Due Date pushes all the proper buttons for an R-rated comedy — a dog using his paws in naughty ways is the breakout gag this time — but the movie never reaches the highs (or lows) of The Hangover, or even its most obvious crib sheet, Planes, Trains and Automobiles.
There's no train, and airplanes are moot after a chance encounter between an uptight businessman (Robert Downey Jr.) and a blissfully ignorant lug (Zach Galifianakis) leads to their ban from flying. There is only a series of autos — rented, borrowed and stolen — getting them from point A to Z and all patched together set pieces in between. Due Date has its share of he-didn't-do-that laughs, just not enough.
Peter Highman (Downey) is desperate to get from Atlanta to Los Angeles for the birth of his first child. Scratch that; his first child is Ethan Tremblay (Galifianakis), the goon who got him kicked off a first-class flight before retrieving his luggage or wallet. Ethan has a rental car and an offer to get Peter to the hospital in time. Before you can say "John Hughes" this odd coupling is in trouble.
But Hughes wouldn't stoop to Peter getting a beatdown from a paraplegic veteran (Danny McBride) or Ethan's habit of pleasuring himself to sleep that sharing a car-bed with Peter won't deter. Neither would he trot out a ditzy marijuana dealer (Juliette Lewis) whose supply leads to a Mexican border standoff. Not a single episode contains the surreal surprise of finding a tiger in the bathroom, or discovering it belongs to Mike Tyson.
Downey does a masterful slow burn throughout Due Date, with a knack for letting viewers detect his mind calculating the next sarcastic remark. Peter isn't a stretch from Tony Stark in Iron Man but even Downey on glib cruise control is enjoyable. Galifianakis gets what amounts to a character in the movie, carting a coffee can of his dead father's ashes leading to (a.) a Jamie Foxx spit take and (b.) a bonding moment for Peter and Ethan. It's a nice pairing of singular personalities deserving better material, or a shorter leash on the improv.
Steve Persall can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8365. Read his blog, Reeling in the Years, at tampabay.com/blogs/movies.