It’s very American is all I can say, by which I mean clearly made for a very broad, undemanding, Friday night, cheap-and-easy-laughs market. That would be all well and good in itself if it weren’t such a drab, lifeless, cynical and uninteresting film, which has nothing to say about its characters and doesn’t even pull the comedy off well. Robert Downey Jr plays an architect in Atlanta desperate to get home to his wife in Los Angeles who’s about to give birth to their first child. At the airport he comes into contact with Zack Galifianakis, a perm-headed lunatic with behavioural problems far more serious than just tourettes. Galifianakis gets them thrown off the plane and onto a no-fly list, forcing the most unlikely road movie ever; without even his wallet, Downey has no choice but to join him driving across the US.
It would be all well and good if this were merely a re-run of the far superior ‘Planes, Trains & Automobiles’ but this film fails in every area where Steve Martin and John Candy succeeded. Galifianakis has no redeeming qualities worth speaking of – he portrays the lovable Candy figure from time to time but is hindered by a one-note script. Downey has the same problems – where he’s supposed to be the straight man, he’s written as the fully straight man – he’s not terribly likable either, nor terribly interesting, and has to get by on his charisma alone (of which he admittedly has in abundance). To succeed and overcome its lack of originality this film needs charm, but mystifyingly neither of the leads offers it. Galifianakis may not yet have proven any ability more than he demonstrated in ‘The Hangover’, not so Downey. I can’t fathom why he accepted this role which, given his enormous comedic talents, he then appears to sleepwalk through. I’m sure he needs a quick film between Marvel film appearances, but this shouldn’t have been it. The only time he comes alive is with Jamie Foxx – hardly surprising given their chemistry in ‘The Soloist’, but it makes you wonder why either of them bothered with this.
You could yourself write most of the thrills and spills they get into – Galifianakis falling asleep at the wheel, their accidental incursion into Mexico, the confrontation at the Grand Canyon, but for reasons known only to the committee of screenwriters an extra level of conflict is added – could they not agree a more convincing motivation to justify Foxx’s casting? But it’s a mystery too why punching a child in a film otherwise relatively serious should be deemed funny, or why Downey’s character should be written as so relentlessly mean in a film meant to be a comedy. Perhaps the American audiences aren’t thought to care that much – the British one never raised much more than a titter. A confused and pointless film, just not uniformally hateful.