DAVID BIANCULLI, host:
Two big studio movies will vie for an audience this weekend. The comedy "Due Date" is the latest from Todd Phillips, who had a smash hit with "The Hangover." "Due Date" stars Robert Downey Jr. and Zach Galifianakis as a mismatched pair who end up taking a road trip together.
And the movie, "127 Hours," is Danny Boyle's first feature film since "Slumdog Millionaire," and stars James Franco as a hiker pinned by a boulder in a Canyon in Utah. It's based on a true story.
Critic David Edelstein reviews them both.
DAVID EDELSTEIN: "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.
(Soundbite of movie, "Due Date")
Mr. ZACH GALIFIANAKIS (Actor): (as Ethan Tremblay) Peter, what brought you to Atlanta, business or pleasure?
Mr. ROBERT DOWNEY JR. (Actor): (as Peter Highman) Business.
Mr. GALIFIANAKIS: (as Ethan Tremblay) Business. What kind of business?
Mr. DOWNEY: (as Peter Highman) Architecture.
Mr. GALIFIANAKIS: (as Ethan Tremblay) How did you get into architecture?
Mr. DOWNEY: (as Peter Highman) College. Anything else? Because I am trying to...
Mr. GALIFIANAKIS: (as Ethan Tremblay) I'm sorry, Peter. We're going to be traveling for the few days and it wouldn't hurt to get to know each other.
Mr. DOWNEY: (as Peter Highman) Ethan, what brought you to Atlanta, business or pleasure?
Mr. GALIFIANAKIS: (as Ethan Tremblay) My daddy died. I went to Atlanta to go to his funeral.
Mr. DOWNEY: (as Peter Highman) Gee. I didn't know. I'm sorry.
Mr. GALIFIANAKIS: (as Ethan Tremblay) He's the one who kind of motivated me to get on the TV.
Mr. DOWNEY: (as Peter Highman) I have a friend, he's in the industry.
Mr. GALIFIANAKIS: (as Ethan Tremblay) Does the work on "Two and a Half Men?"
Mr. DOWNEY: (as Peter Highman) No. He...
Mr. GALIFIANAKIS: (as Ethan Tremblay) Oh, man, that's too bad, because "Two and a Half Men" is the reason I wanted to become an actor.
Mr. DOWNEY: (as Peter Highman) Right.
Mr. GALIFIANAKIS: (as Ethan Tremblay) Especially the second season.
Mr. DOWNEY: (as Peter Highman) Why do you even have this?
Mr. GALIFIANAKIS: (as Ethan Tremblay) Oh, because this is my Daddy. These are his ashes.
Mr. DOWNEY: (as Peter Highman) Why are your father's ashes in a coffee can?
Mr. GALIFIANAKIS: (as Ethan Tremblay) Because he's dead, Peter.
EDELSTEIN: 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, here 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.
BIANCULLI: David Edelstein is film critic for New York magazine.
(Soundbite of music)
BIANCULLI: For Terry Gross, I'm David Bianculli.
(Soundbite of music)
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.