had to choose between Megamind (clever but forgettable) and Due Date (juvenile and slow). According to a friend of mine, it’s like choosing between boys we all knew in high school. Let’s just say, it didn’t go well.
So I’m at a party. Don’t get too excited, the parties I go to these days are filled with one-year-olds. So I’m at a party, trying not to step on various babies who are playing a weird game of self-croquet, using all of our legs as wickets, and a friend of mine is talking to me about politics. I try not to get too excited, because it’s my view lately that people’s political loyalties are beginning to resemble their passions for sports teams, and everyone on each side is pretty quick to call everyone else a moron, instead of “fellow Americans with possibly legit things to talk about.”* But I’m remaining very Zen-like. It’s not too difficult, as I’m focusing instead on quelling my overwhelming urge to pick up every child and explain to him or her very seriously that they are, in fact, the most adorable kid in the room.
Then my friend makes a statement that snaps me back to the conversation. “People,” he says. “People now value style over content in all areas of life.”
Well, I almost drop the kid I’m holding, and as it’s my friend’s own child, I doubt he’d favor my graceful style over the content that his baby is now plummeting to the wood floor. Because…movies! It’s like this with movies!
24 hours later, I’m trying to figure out what new release I should review. My options are Due Date (the buddy flick comedy from the makers of The Hangover and, God help us, the forthcoming The Hangover Part II**) and Megamind (the new digitally animated jokefest starring the voices of a bunch of famous TV comedians). A week ago, I’d been in Boston, and with a review deadline coming up, my host and I scanned Fandango for films that had just opened. Title after title I dismissed with a heavy heart, as quick as we wouldn’t be getting any of these films in Richmond in the near future, making a review of them pretty useless. The only one that week that had opened in our fair city was, I sheepishly admitted, Saw 3D, the “final chapter” in boring, increasingly elaborate death stunts. So I convinced my editor to postpone my deadline a week, widening my pool of worthy prospects.
Back to the Megamind/Due Date dilemma. Certainly the animated Will Ferrell vehicle would provide some laughs, and I do give Tina Fey my full attention, but reviews of those types of things inevitably go like this: “I laughed aloud. How do kids get these jokes? Oh, DreamWorks! Wait, which movie were we talking about?” On the other hand, Due Date features two dudes I really respect, Robert Downey, Jr. (who is just a fantastic actor) and Zack Galifianakis (who is just a genius comedian), both of whom were shown the money by Todd Phillips, the director of a movie I found to be as unfunny as it was pathetic.
I chose Due Date, of course. Scathing reviews are more interesting than “I’ve had worse ways to spend a Sunday afternoon!” And, of course, there’s always the exhilarating feeling when a film surprises you, and the slim chance of this occurrence is motivation enough.
During the first twenty minutes, a kid of about nine or ten is annoying our protagonist by pulling on his tie, and the protagonist socks the kid in the stomach.
The theater erupted into laughter.
RDJ, my beloved RDJ, threatens to give the kid a second punch if he lets on to his mom what happened.
I’m pretty sure the people around us were going to hyperventilate, their mirth was that overpowering.
The response to this is, of course, “But RDJ’s character [Peter, an unconvincing architect on a mission to get home in time to witness the birth of his child] has anger problems, and this is a recurring issue in the movie.”
Sure, yeah, an issue that permits him to spit on harmless dogs and punch kids, but a relevant character trait just the same. The point is, THEY KNEW YOU WOULD THINK IT WAS FUNNY. They knew you would laugh out loud at blatant child abuse and vow to tell all your friends how hilarious the movie was, resulting in gazillions of ticket sales.
The rest of the movie is more of the same — cheap laughs that are, when it comes down to it, anything but cheap. It’s all a gamble. Millions of dollars thrown at some jokes that tested well on whatever demographics have the most income to burn.
A film with a nearly identical plot, Planes, Trains & Automobiles makes points about characters while still entertaining. Due Date, however, knows that it doesn’t need to make that effort. It can hire able actors to deliver one-liners amid slapstick, and we’ll gladly pay them for the privilege.
Fortunately, nothing is hopeless. We could have better options at our local theaters if we all (including me) made up our minds to refuse to spend money on this drivel. If that’s too cold turkey, a good start would be to stop laughing when dogs are spit on, kids are knocked around, and anyone with a Southern accent is considered to be a “hillbilly.”
Due Date, you were atrocious, but I hate to say it, it’s entirely our fault.
*If you’re thinking, “Oh come on, you’re always calling the people behind every film morons,” I urge you, fellow American, to read on. It’s not just filmmakers who are going to receive that honor today.
** THE SECRET OF THE BOOZE!