Todd PhillipsDue Date, which opens Friday, will delight anyone with the ability to savor a nervy comedy that isn’t afraid to play it “mean.” A fellow critic used this term following a screening earlier today, and I said, “Yes, exactly — and its willingness to boldly go in that direction is what makes it such a stand-out.

“I can honestly say that no comedy has taken me into such hilariously hostile and misanthropic realms,” I added, “and that’s why I was charmed and delighted and never once looked at my watch.”

Due Date is obviously a boilerplate road-trip comedy in the vein of Planes, Trains and Automobiles, but its embrace of dark-streak humor — particularly in the case of Robert Downey‘s character, a snarlier and more misanthropic version of Steve Martin‘s PTA adman — is what makes it, for me, close to brilliant. It’s not the material that’s original — it’s the dark style of delivery and its refusal to attempt to charm or placate those looking for a sense of harmony and okay-ness.

Yes, Due Date lets a little bit of light shine in toward the end, but for the most part it flips the bird at those looking for a traditional dumb-ass, good-time comedy. And I’m almost in love with it for that. Call it a highly engaged state of “like.”

It’s also one of those comedies that will play slightly better if you’re ripped, or at least if you’re familiar (i.e., experienced) with the principals of high-end stoner humor. It’s basically a pot-inhaling GenX version of Planes, Trains & Automobiles but with a gnarlier, skankier and more hostile sense of humor. There’s a scene between Downey and a little kid that’s an instant classic — I’ll tell you that much right now.

Downey, God love him, is so butt-plugged and fearlessly unlikable in this thing that I’ve almost forgiven him for Sherlock Holmes. (Almost, I say.) At one point his character describes himself as “a pig” and an asshole, and it’s not that he doesn’t let the audience “in” so they can sense and perhaps understand why he’s this way — he does — but he does so without resorting to the usual actorish tricks. He just sucks it in and lives in his character’s skin. It’s a borderline amazing performance — seriously.

The film also contains the funniest and most likable Galifianakis performance yet — his man-child routine has been finessed and improved upon in ways I’m finding difficult to describe except to say he’s much more tolerable here than he was in Phillips’ The Hangover. (He has a scene in which an unexpected emotional flow pours out of him — a moment that surprises and touches.) And cheers to Jamie Foxx for delivering an amusing cameo, and particularly for his character’s facility with coffee-preparation.

I recognize that my endorsing a comedy can almost be interpreted as a kiss of death. I loathe many if not most of the comedies that mainstream audiences go for. I’m guessing that women won’t like Due Date very much — the humor is very guy-ish — but maybe that won’t happen. I hope it succeeds financially. I want the same for all comedies that make you gasp and laugh simultaneously. I know that while The Hangover may be funnier to a broader spectrum of people, Due Date is a much ballsier and more interesting film.