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Due Date: Abortive effort 

Those who found it hilarious when Zach Galifianakis mock-masturbated a baby in The Hangover will find themselves in comedy heaven watching Due Date. Here, audiences not only get to see Galifianakis beat himself off but also get to witness his butt-ugly dog using its paw to bop its own little red pecker in unison with its master's strokes. Not since Diane Keaton's mutt in 2007's Because I Said So humped the furniture and licked a computer screen showing porn has a motion picture humiliated our furry friends so thoroughly — when monitoring on-set animal action, shouldn't the ASPCA take simulated sadism into account as well?

OK, perhaps not, but Due Date is certainly the type of film that makes me long for an ASPCC (American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Critics). A painful comedy in the lowest-common-denominator mold, this finds Robert Downey Jr. cast as Peter Highman, an architect trying to get from Atlanta to Los Angeles in time to watch his pregnant wife (a woefully wasted Michelle Monaghan) give birth. But once he bumps into aspiring actor Ethan Tremblay (Galifianakis), that's not going to be easy. After Ethan's bumbling lands both of them on the "no-fly" list, Peter is forced to drive cross-country with this eccentric imbecile, an odyssey that finds them having to contend with an unruly kid (an unexpected sucker-punch provides the film with one of its very few laughs), a paraplegic redneck (who else but Danny McBride) and Mexican border officials.

Unlike its thematic antecedent Planes, Trains & Automobiles, in which John Candy somehow managed to make his character both annoying and endearing, Due Date never allows us to warm up to Galifianakis' insufferable Ethan, although that has as much to do with the actor's sandpaper personality as it does with a sloppy script credited to four writers (including director Todd Phillips). The screenplay presents Ethan as such a buffoon — and spends most of its time mocking him — that it's downright embarrassing in those occasional moments when it makes a play for audience sympathy. In the midst of all this horse manure, it's almost amazing that Downey manages to concentrate enough to deliver a fine performance. It's disheartening to see him squandering his talents in such a dud, but his professionalism at least prevents the entire picture from devolving into a complete circle jerk.

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