Humiliation-based comedy has taken a curious trajectory over the past decade or so. The Farrelly Brothers' earlier films like 'Dumb & Dumber' and 'Kingpin' were goofy but earnest, yet it was the gauntlet of gags known as 'There's Something About Mary' that exploded at the box office and (at the risk of generalizing) re-ignited studio interest in the R-rated comedy.
From there, Ben Stiller found himself embarrassed once more in 'Meet the Parents', and again in 'Along Came Polly', and yet again in 'Meet the Fockers' before re-uniting with the Farrellys on their underwhelming remake of 'The Heartbreak Kid'. Stiller wasn't just the funny man, but rather the punching bag, and after that, it seemed that endearing characters enduring great awkwardness became less of a priority as an elaborate sense of cruelty took the forefront. (One could argue that the 'Jackass' films have demonstrated this mentality in its purest form.)
Cut to last summer, when Todd Phillips' 'The Hangover' broke out and took the title of R-rated comedy box office champ away from 'Mary'. A sporadically hilarious movie that ran out of steam right around when Ken Jeong showed up to spout things like "Funny fat guy fall on face!", its blackout narrative at least brought a necessary spark of creativity to the table.
Now, in the time between 'The Hangover' and Phillips' follow-up -- 'Due Date' -- "Funny fat guy fall on face!" has become the rule of thumb and the systematic humiliation of protagonist(s) at any cost is the name of the game. 'Paul Blart: Mall Cop'? Check. 'Grown Ups'? Check. 'Wild Hogs'? Check. 'Old Dogs'? Check. The list goes on. To be fair, 'Due Date' is easily funnier than any of those titles, if not 'The Hangover' itself, but it shares with them all a mean-spirited mindset that nearly negates the laughs.