'Due Date' and '127 Hours' Aim Low, Hit High

Robert Downey Jr. and Zach Galifianakis in a car i i

Dude, Where's My Car? Robert Downey Jr., left, plays an uptight architect trying to get home for his child's birth. Zach Galifianakis plays his traveling companion, the struggling actor who offers him a ride. Melinda Sue Gordon/Warner Bros. Pictures hide caption

itoggle caption Melinda Sue Gordon/Warner Bros. Pictures
Robert Downey Jr. and Zach Galifianakis in a car

Dude, Where's My Car? Robert Downey Jr., left, plays an uptight architect trying to get home for his child's birth. Zach Galifianakis plays his traveling companion, the struggling actor who offers him a ride.

Melinda Sue Gordon/Warner Bros. Pictures

Due Date

  • Director: Todd Phillips
  • Genre: Comedy
  • Running Time: 100 minutes

Rated R for language, drug use, and sexual content.

With: Robert Downey Jr., Zach Galifianakis, Jamie Foxx, Michelle Monaghan

Watch A Clip From 'Due Date'

Due Date and 127 Hours will be huge hits, in part because they aim low and hit their targets, in part because — like the number one films of the past few weeks, Jackass 3D and Saw 3D — they're relentlessly in your face.

Todd Phillips's Due Date has a premise so tired I'm bored even recounting it — two mismatched men thrown together on a desperate road trip — but at every point Phillips gets nastier and filthier. Another filmmaker would have the uptight straight arrow annoyed by, say, his slobby companion's snoring. Here, Robert Downey, Jr.'s Peter tries to sleep in the back seat of a car as, up front, Zach Galifianakis's Ethan — well, trust me, he's just gross. Like Phillips's other comedies, this one begins with its protagonist repulsed by a heavy man's sweat and other excretions and ends with him trumpeting his love: Bromance is in the air, la-la.

At least they're a classy pair of bromantics. Downey has perfect pitch: Like the funniest slow burners he looks truly capable of murder. Galifianakis makes Ethan disarmingly matter-of-fact; the more chaos he engenders, the more exquisite his dignity. Sitting opposite Peter in a diner while mysteriously clutching a coffee can, he can't fathom his traveling companion's hostility.

Peter points to the coffee can. "Why do you even have this?" he asks.

"Oh, because that's my Daddy. These are his ashes."

"Why are your father's ashes in a coffee can?"

"Because he's dead, Peter."

James Franco i i

Dude, Where's My Arm? James Franco plays Aron Ralston, a hiker who must escape from a trapped position in an isolated canyon. Chuck Zlotnick/Fox Searchlight Pictures hide caption

itoggle caption Chuck Zlotnick/Fox Searchlight Pictures
James Franco

Dude, Where's My Arm? James Franco plays Aron Ralston, a hiker who must escape from a trapped position in an isolated canyon.

Chuck Zlotnick/Fox Searchlight Pictures

127 Hours

  • Director: Danny Boyle
  • Genre: Drama
  • Running Time:

Rated R for language and some disturbing violent content and bloody images.

With: James Franco, Amber Tamblyn, Kate Mara, Clemence Poesy, Kate Burton

Watch Clips From '127 Hours'

What happens to those ashes is genuinely riotous, but at journey's end, Due Date is still a formula mismatched buddy comedy that goes nowhere you haven't been. For all its naughty-boy touches, it's all too happy to hug the Interstate.

The come-on for 127 Hours is an even mightier gross-out. Based on a memoir called Between a Rock and a Hard Place, the film recounts how Aron Ralston, played by James Franco, is pinned under a boulder in an isolated Utah canyon and forced, after nearly five days with no hope of rescue, to cut off his arm.

I read the book and knew going in the movie would be rough — but not that director Danny Boyle would be such a tease. At one point, Aron gazes on his arm — turning black and clearly doomed anyway — and you think, "Heeeere we go." But no . . . not yet. And then, later, "Here — it — comes." Nope. But the third time, that's the charm.

Boyle is a panderer par excellence. I don't mean that to sound quite as unflattering as it does, because it's an art to know when to tease and when to deliver. But in his work we're rarely left with much beyond the fading memory of sensations: jump-cuts of a young man running from a drug dealer in Trainspotting, a low-angle view of a falling drop of zombie blood in 28 Days Later, a music video of young people dancing on a train platform in Slumdog Millionaire.

127 Hours has a music-video syntax all the way through. Boyle opens with random people in motion, multiple split screens and pictures-in-pictures; and Franco's Aron is so energized he practically climbs the walls before he hits those Utah canyons, whereupon Boyle's camera swoops over the mighty cliffs. And once his protagonist is wedged, Boyle doesn't entirely settle down. The real Aron had a video camera with him and taped goodbyes to his parents, and those bits in the movie are compelling; Franco stops mugging and talks to someone other than himself. But Boyle also strives to evoke Aron's mental landscape, which means dreams and visions and flashbacks and lots of whooshing camerawork and pop music. The only time he stays in one place is for — you guessed it — that arm-severing.

When it comes, it's a test of our endurance. I failed. I opted to watch in Finger Vision, through a web of digits that opened and — mostly — closed. It's a long four minutes or so, and there's sound, too. 127 Hours leaves you jittery, crazed. I hated every minute, but its combination of Jackass-style gross-outs and never-say-die American uplift looks to me like box-office gold.

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