Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Due Date

No link.

Genre: Comedy
Premise: An expectant dad (along with an unlikely travel companion) races cross-country in hopes of making it home for the birth of his first child.
About: Todd Phillips, who made in excess of 35 million dollars by foregoing his salary for profit participation in The Hangover, has made Due Date his next film, to co-star Zach Galifianakis and be released next summer. The following summer (2011), he'll release The Hangover 2, which I am looking for an early draft of (so if you have anything on the project, send it my way!).
Writers: Alan R. Cohen & Alan Freedland (March 6, 2009 draft)

The most unlikely movie-star in America

Nikki Finke had a huge write-up on her site about who was responsible for the success of The Hangover. Obviously, she's got it all wrong. I was responsible for the success of The Hangover. Did I not have it here in my Top 15? I mean, duh. But seriously, the people responsible for The Hangover's success are the writers who came up with the idea. It's one of the few concepts I've heard that could've been interpreted a bunch of different ways and still been funny. It was just a great concept and a good reminder to all of you that a strong hook goes a long way.

So last week Todd Phillips announced that instead of going directly into The Hangover 2, he'd make this little road trip film, Due Date, first. It's actually a smart idea. You snag Galifianakis so you got the familiarity factor, and you capitalize on the success of The Hangover without having to burn a Hangover sequel. Word is that Phillips is taking the script by Cohen and Freedland and Phillipsizing it. Which means we can expect the roadtrip version of a few tigers, Mike Tyson, and a breast-feeding Heather Graham. What else can we expect? Read the review to find out bra.

House-hunting in Bel-Air

Peter, a worrywart of a man with a mega-pregnant wife, has just been offered the chance of a lifetime: To sign Croatia's biggest action movie/basketball star to his company's Red Bull like drink, Bull Rush. To a man who doesn't answer a question without consulting his ten-year plan, this could bring him the kind of financial security that every family dreams of. Oh, but there's a small problem. Peter has to meet the Vlad Squad all the way across the country, only days before his wife is scheduled to have their baby (via a structurally convenient C-Section). This is cutting things mighty close but these kinds of opportunities don't come along in life very often.

So Peter hops on a plane, flies to the east coast, and has a wonderful meeting with the Croation Sensation. It's on his way back where the problems begin. At the airport he gets his bag mixed up with man-child Ethan (Galifianakis). Ethan's bag is packed with all sorts of drug paraphernalia and other weird things. It's enough to get Peter pulled into a back room and questioned. Peter barely makes his plane where he's conveniently seated next to - who else but - Ethan. In a tired shtick we've seen a million times before, the two start arguing, sarcastically boasting that they have bombs in their bags, and wouldn't you know it, get kicked off the plane.

Peter's thrown on the No-Fly List and no rent-a-car List and No Everything Else list. But guess who is driving back to California??? That's right. Ethan! The scruffy, lazy, farting, fly-by-the-seat-of-his-pants nimrod invites poor Peter along and since beggars can't be choosers, Peter accepts the invitation.

After that, classic roadtrip hilarity ensues.

It doesn't take long for Due Date to hit some bumps in the road. The biggest bump is that there's nothing here we haven't seen before. Add to that that Due Date is more concerned with hijinx than story and you're looking at one grumpy Carson. As I may have mentioned before, I like a story in my screenplays. Look, I'm all about the lol if you can pull it off. But rooming with your easily insulted sister-in-law isn't exactly Grade-A material. And crashing a college party doesn't ring very high on the original-o-meter. These problems only serve to exaggerate the lack of story. And while there's a decent subplot involving Peter's absent dad, the main storyline of Peter's baby being born isn't threatened until very late in the script.

It's page 80 to be exact. That's the first moment where Cohen and Freedland take a chance and the first time the script actually surprised me. Peter and Ethan pay a visit to Peter's old college buddy, Jim. Jim is a black man who used to date Peter's wife. As Peter and Jim get to talking, Jim seems to know a little too much about Peter's life and casually mentions some e-mail exchanges with Peter's wife - none of which Peter knew about. As Peter takes a look around the house, he notices quite a few pictures up of Jim and his wife from their relationship days. A little later, he finds a "not so old" picture of the two at a restaurant. While Peter defends this discovery, Ethan insists that Jim is "fucking your wife." This of course adds a whole new dimension to the birth of Peter's child. Will it be his child? Or might his wife have been having an affair behind his back?

The mystery is exactly the kind of jolt the screenplay needed and for the last 30 pages of Due Date, I was right there wanting to know what happened. That's more than I can say for the first 80. But for whatever reason - maybe they didn't have confidence in the storyline or maybe they hadn't fully fleshed it out - the mystery of whose baby it is is forgotten. I don't think Cohen and Freedland are aware of what they have here. Due Date would gain tremendously from moving the Jim/Peter meeting up to the middle of the script, heightening our curiosity about his wife's fidelity and increasing the mystery of the baby's father for a lengthier stretch of the story. This also puts Peter in direct conflict with his character flaw - the idea that you can plan for everything - and overall just makes the story more interesting.

But the one thing that I kept coming back to during this read is how amazingly similar Due Date was to a script off of last year's Black List, the hilarious The Most Annoying Man In The World. Of the two screenplays, "Annoying" has a better hook and is funnier overall. Who knows? Maybe Phillips shares this opinion but couldn't get his hands on it.

Anyway, how a script ends has a huge effect on me and Due Date definitely saves face in the final act, tapping into an emotional component that simply wasn't there for the earlier part of the script. And I think that Ethan is going to be a fun character onscreen. For that reason, I'll recommend this, but only by a sliver.

[ ] trash
[ ] barely kept my interest

[x] worth the read

[ ] impressive

[ ] genius

What I learned: There's usually a moment in every screenplay where your main character has to talk about a dramatic moment that happened earlier in his life (i.e. "My mother died when I was ten." " My wife left me for another man."). Since most characters in movies have troubled pasts, these admissions almost always feel cliche. A character going into a monologue about how they came home from school one day and saw the ambulance is about as close to screenplay suicide as you can get. For that reason, there are little tricks to make these moments less schmaltzy. One, which Cohen and Freedland use, is to have your supporting character ask your main character about his past, and then have your main character resist answering. This takes the focus off the actual reveal and puts it more on his resistance. We're more likely to buy into the story if we sense the character isn't comfortable talking about it. Here's the example from Due Date.


So, is your dad still alive?


What's his deal, what's he do?

I don't know.

You don't know? How do you not know?

I'll tell you about it some other time. Good night.

C'mon, we're having a conversation. We're bonding.

He walked out on us when I was twelve. I don't speak to him. I don't even think about him.

I don't believe that. Every guy thinks about his Dad. I think about mine all the time.

A beat.

We really should get to sleep.

Yeah. Alright.

You see how that reveals a traumatic experience for Peter but doesn't draw attention to itself? How much better is that than this?
Peter and Ethan are almost asleep. But Peter looks like he has something on his mind. He turns to Ethan.

You know my dad left me? He walked out on us when I was twelve. He doesn't speak to me. I don't even think he thinks about me. It's really hard for me to wake up in the morning sometimes."

LAAAAAAAME. Yet you'd be surprised at how many times I see this in scripts.