It definitely has a great cast. Robert Downey Jr. can do no wrong right now and Zach Galifianakis is finally a popular name. They both use their comedic skills to make their characters seem fresh in a routine movie. Downey Jr.’s Peter Highman is a busy architect who is trying to get from Atlanta to Las Angeles to be home in time for the birth of his first child.
Galifianakis is a lovable but stupid want to be actor named Ethan Tremblay who keeps inadvertently causing Peter to detour his trip. It’s the standard road trip movie almost identical to Planes, Trains, and Automobiles. Some tropes work better than others. Having the characters use drugs isn’t that funny, but these two make it fun. The random characters they meet aren’t that great but, again, actors like Danny McBride know how to raise the material.
That’s the major difference between this and The Hangover. The script for this doesn’t work as strongly on the comedic level. Few lines are worth repeating because they require someone like Galifianakis to make it work.
On the other hand, there is something that Phillips knows how to do really well. He knows how to have very realistic relationships between men. The friendships in Old School and The Hangover were top-notch beyond just the actors’ chemistry. Phillips has really tapped into how males behave around each other and that pays off really well in key scenes.
The romance of the movie is between friends, which is odd since the crux of the movie is about Peter racing to be a father. His wife, Sarah (Michelle Monaghan), is constantly worried about them. Through a contrived subplot, their marriage is actually in jeopardy but there doesn’t seem to be any actual stakes at hand. The real focus is whether or not Peter will be pushed to the point of killing Ethan or they will become best friends. Not all elements of this arc works, but when it does it ends up being rather special.
There are still laughs throughout but there aren’t any really great comedic set-pieces. It doesn’t reinvent the road trip movie but just provide a consistently entertaining entry into the tired genre.