Over a decade ago, Todd Phillips co-created the New York Underground Film Festival. Those were the days when this event was really, really underground and almost too scary to attend. (Try sitting through Roadkill.) He went on to direct the highly entertaining Frat House for HBO, a "documentary" never to be released for the masses. Then he surprised everyone by becoming one of the most commercially profitable directors in America, with Road Trip, Old School, and The Hangover -- the highest grossing R-rated comedy of all time -- under his belt.
Now comes Due Date with Robert Downey Jr. as Peter Highman, an expectant father trying to get back to his wife before she gives birth, and Zach Galifianakis as Ethan Tremblay, a closeted-homosexual jinx machine who's headed for Hollywood to become a star. His dream venue: Two and a Half Men.
Well, after being thrown off an airplane together for unsanctioned post-9/11 behavior, the once strangers become an abrasive duo forced to travel by car together to the West Coast. Oh, no!! Won't chaos reign? Well, yes. A thinly disguised revamping of 1987's Trains, Planes & Automobiles with Steve Martin and John Candy, Due Date tries hard to be outrageous (a masturbating dog; a masturbating Tremblay; numerous cremated-dad jokes), yet the film never gels because as much as Phillips wants to make a fart-film that men with 16-year-old minds will guffaw over for decades, he also desires us to seriously care about his two characters.
We get to experience each man's real pain again and again. It is as if Judd Apatow were directing Rain Man. This doesn't exactly make for a satisfying film, but it shows that there's much more to Phillips's talent, and that once he gets over the need to shock and offend (e.g. the punching of a child in the stomach by Highwater; the brutal beating of Highwater by a crippled veteran), he might just make a movie that will move us for all the right reasons.
Clint Eastwood is clearly one of the more overrated directors of our time. Gran Torino (2008) was the worst-acted film of recent years; Changling (2008) the smarmiest; Blood Work (2002) the most implausible; and Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil (1997) one of the more horrid adaptations of any bestselling book. So why do so many critics have their heads up in Clint's ass making the smoochy?
The New York Times' A.O. Scott even deemed Million Dollar Baby (2004) a masterpiece. Really? A masterpiece?
Now Hereafter arrives, a trite look at death that could definitely use a dose of Jennifer Love Hewitt and a few notes from Bernard Hermann. (Yes, Eastwood also composed the dreary elevator music for the soundtrack.)
The main problem here is basically Peter Morgan's script that intertwines three melancholic tales: that of a young boy whose twin brother gets fatally hit by a car, that of a French female TV anchor (Cecile de France) who dies in the waves of a tsunami and is brought back to life; and that of George (Matt Damon), a man cursed with the ability to communicate with the deceased. This skill torpedoes his dating life.
After a spectacular opening with a tsunami Roland Emmerich would savor, Hereafter floats gently to a muddled, unsatisfying non-ending. Eastwood, it appears, has nothing to state, philosophically or otherwise, about what happens when we're finally gone. He has neither the wit of Churchill ("I am ready to meet my Maker. Whether my Maker is prepared for the ordeal of meeting me is another matter."), the cynicism of Chuck Palahniuk ("If death meant just leaving the stage long enough to change costume and come back as a new character...Would you slow down? Or speed up?"), or the wonder of the Eskimos ("Perhaps they are not stars, but rather openings in heaven where the love of our lost ones pours through and shines down upon us to let us know they are happy.").
According to Eastwood and Morgan (who had much better luck with his screenplays on Queen Elizabeth, Idi Amin, and David Frost), people die so two self-indulgent souls can finally find true love while dreadful music plays in the background.