Rob Brydon and Steve Coogan reunite for more dining and riffing in "The Trip to Italy." Credit: IFC Films
‘The Trip to Italy’ Director: Michael Winterbottom Stars: Steve Coogan, Rob Brydon Rating: R 4 (out of 5) Globes
There are fewer no-brainers than a second go of “The Trip,” in which Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon combined comic riffing with food porn. Its stars have long shared a relationship at once prickly and productive; they’re competing for your laughs, which forces them to better themselves, to push themselves harder. There could be infinite incarnations of “The Trip,” which does little but hang around as they ad-lib, do impressions or simply reflect on life, sometimes digging into a scrumptious dish. It doesn’t need to do anything else.
Sure enough, “The Trip to Italy” mostly repeats the first, with variations. After the location switch — from overcast England to unbearably gorgeous Italy — the most significant change-up is having them do a bit of a body switch. In “The Trip,” it was Coogan (which is to say his slightly fictionalized on-screen persona) who was depressed, fretting over his career and life while descending into flings and the occasional coke snort. Here, Coogan is fairly happy (and sober), while Brydon is an anxious new father despairing over his stressed-out wife, and too easily giving into certain temptations on the road. (In real life, he’s the happy father of five.)
Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon relax in a gorgeous country in "The Trip to Italy." Credit: IFC Films
But Brydon — however low he’s feeling — doesn’t let even guilt get him down. Unlike Coogan did to the first, he doesn’t drag the movie down to his mood. It does delve deeper into the dark side of Brydon: the need to always entertain, even if it’s just himself, that can seem a touch pathological, plus an anguish that he isn’t seen as a sex symbol, as Coogan is. On top of that, they’re reflecting on middle age and the way it causes one to both stew in regrets while mellowing out. Then again, it’s more chill about middle age than the first one, more content to simply kick back. The impressions and riffing aren’t there to mask pain; this time Coogan seems to enjoy kidding around as much as Brydon always does.
Much, much more importantly, though, this is consistently, sometimes screamingly funny, nearly as much as the first. Coogan and Brydon even dare to revisit the bit that made them Internet superstars — their dueling Michael Caines — only to take it in another, hysterical direction. There are more impressions — Brydon does a killer Hugh Grant — but some of the funniest bits are small ones, sometimes lurking in the margins, or even the way Brydon brings along one CD for their many car rides and it’s “Jagged Little Pill.” As people to spend a movie with, they’re both pleasant and uproarious. If they ever got into a real fight, their split would be a cultural tragedy.