Review: Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon return in the low-key sequel 'The Trip To Italy'
PARK CITY - When I saw "The Trip," I saw the feature film version, not the six-episode television series, and I thought it was an enjoyable lark. It's not the most profound or the most enjoyable film from Michael Winterbottom's filmography, but it might be the easiest to share with other people.
After all, it's basically just Rob Brydon and Steve Coogan trading riffs on food, love, and Michael Caine for a few hours. One of the things I found most fascinating when I saw it again was how Coogan and Brydon are playing fictionalized versions of themselves, so you can't call the film a documentary, no matter how much it feels like one at times. One of the stylistic touches that I appreciate is that they aren't trying to pretend it's a documentary. It allows Winterbottom to shoot very intimate moments without having to justify why a camera would be there or why Coogan and Brydon would allow certain things to be shot. It's a subtle approach, but a careful distinction, especially in this one as we see that Brydon's not quite the amiable family man he appeared to be in the first one and that Coogan doesn't quite fit the role of perpetual cad that he's been associated with so often.
One of the things I find most entertaining about the dynamic between Coogan and Brydon is that there is this great animosity that Coogan always plays towards Brydon, and the moments where they seem to really click are the moments where it seems like Coogan forgets how annoyed he is for a fleeting moment before suddenly remembering again. Brydon simply doesn't care. He just lets it roll right off of him, and he just keeps on chatting away, launching a barrage of impressions at Coogan no matter what.
As with the first film, food plays an essential role in this film, and since they're in Italy, it's basically a non-stop parade of some of the most amazing-looking meals from Liguria, Tuscany, Rome, Amalfi and Capri. We get these cutaways from time to time to the teams making the various meals in each restaurant, glimpses behind the curtain, but we never really meet any of the chefs. Instead, Winterbottom keeps the focus completely on Brydon and Coogan and their conversations.
While I enjoyed much of the banter back and forth, I also felt like this one was struck with the law of diminishing returns, a frequent sequel problem. Sure, the guys riff on that a bit in the film. At one point, Brydon holds up "The Godfather Part II" as a great sequel and Coogan dismissively points out that's the film everyone uses to try to make the case for sequels not being worse than the original. But at this point, riffing on sequels in sequels is not particularly bold or fresh, even if you try to make the meta point. If you enjoyed the Michael Caine impressions in the first film, there is a reprise of Caine here, but more as a way of then getting into a long run about the voices used by Christian Bale and Tom Hardy in "The Dark Knight Rises" than as an excuse just to do Caine. I also liked their breakdown of all the different James Bond actors and their accents. There does come a point, though, where you wonder if Brydon has the ability to switch off the impressions for a while, and the film underlines that idea by showing him videotape an audition for a Michael Mann film that is pretty much just an Al Pacino impression turned down to a simmer.
As the film progresses, Brydon's indiscretions involving a deckhand on a boat begin to wear on him as he debates cheating on his wife for a second time, while Coogan struggles to make a connection with his teenaged son. The film ends in a very melancholy place, and anyone expecting "The Trip To Italy" to be nothing but jokes will most likely leave irritated. I really enjoy it when these three guys work together (Winterbottom's "Tristam Shandy" is an unappreciated gem), and "The Trip To Italy" is certainly enjoyable. But considering how deeply Richard Linklater's "Before" movies pierce each time he returns to them, I guess I wish these movies actually dug a little deeper or had something larger to say.
Still, it's an amiable charmer, and for many people, this second "Trip" will be just as satisfying as the first.