Review: The Trip to Italy (Sundance 2014)
PLOT:Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon (playing fictionalized versions of themselves) go on a road trip through Italy, where they sample the local cuisine, discuss life, and generally get on each others nerves.
REVIEW:Michael Winterbottom's THE TRIP was a surprise art-house hit a couple of years ago. The theatrical version- released by IFC Films- was a condensed version of what was actually a limited series on British television. The sequel- which starts off with a discussion of why sequels are generally inferior- seems to have been made with more of a theatrical market in mind now that the people behind it know there's interest on both sides of the Atlantic. As such, the lush Italian scenery is gorgeous, while the gastronomic delights the two devour can't help but make your popcorn and coke (or in my case coffee and croissant being a 9am screening) seem a tad inferior by comparison.
Like the first one, THE TRIP TO ITALY is more than just food porn. In many ways, this feels like the British equivalent of the BEFORE series, the major (significant) difference being that instead of a man and woman who love each other, here you've got two men who can barely stand each other. This time- however- Coogan and Brydon's relationship seems to have warmed up a bit. Coogan is less of a sourpuss, being at a more content place in his life. Brydon is the one who's having his midlife crisis this time, being tempted by the many gorgeous, available women on the road, while his wife stays home and watches their three-year-old daughter.
In real life, Coogan and Brydon seem to be friends, but on-screen, when working with director Michael Winterbottom, they play up a rivalry they first exploited with TRISTRAM SHANDY. In the first film, the two were often at each others throats, but here they seem more affable towards each other and the people they meet on their trip. As always, their chemistry is brilliant. THE TRIP TO ITALY is essentially just two hours of free-wheeling conversations, but the two are endlessly entertaining regardless of the subject. Within one conversation they can go from debating the merits of Lord Byron to how of all the actors to play James Bond, Pierce Brosnan is the toughest to imitate.
The first movie's signature scene was their battling Michael Caine impressions and we get a redux here, as Brydon makes sure to rent a Mini-Cooper for their trip through Italy, so they could have their own little mini-ITALIAN JOB. The funniest part of the movie has to be when Coogan and Brydon have a go at THE DARK KNIGHT RISES, from how sad Alfred seems in the film to how (they believe) it's the only movie made in English that could use subtitles as Tom Hardy and Christian Bale both play with their voices making dialogue indecipherable. This take-down of the film seems destined to go viral. Their dueling Anthony Hopkins in THE BOUNTY impressions are also pretty brilliant.
Obviously, if THE TRIP wasn't your cup of tea, the follow-up won't be either. However, if- like so many of us- you enjoyed the first one (which has become a kind of cable staple over the years) taking this trip is a no-brainer. Coogan and Brydon are both inspired raconteurs, and always witty regardless of the subject they're discussing. Hopefully they'll do another.