A film review by Craig J. Koban October 3, 2014 


2014, R, 110 mins.


Steve Coogan as Steve  /  Rob Brydon as Rob

Written and directed by Michael Winterbottom

There’s a very sly scene in THE TRIP TO ITALY – Michael Winterbottom’s sequel (his first one…ever!) to 2010’s THE TRIP – during which time stars Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon (playing versions of themselves) are at a posh restaurant in Italy ruminating about movies in general.  

At one point they get on the subject of great movies sequels, to which Brydon immediately sites THE GODFATHER: PART II as a crowning achievement in follow-up filmmaking.  Coogan steadfastly dismisses his pick, seeing as many movie junkies, in his mind, lazily select it almost by default.  In his estimation, “It just feels odd to do something for the second time.”  Of course, that hysterical dinner conversation scene – one of many in the film – serves as a wink-wink, nudge-nudge meta commentary on THE TRIP TO ITALY itself, seeing as it is a definitive sequel.  In actuality, 2010’s THE TRIP was actually a BAFTA Award winning British TV series that was first broadcast on the BBC and then later edited down into a feature length film (ditto for THE TRIP TO ITALY).  

Technicalities aside, THE TRIP was a wonderfully involving and frequently hysterical buddy road comedy that existed primarily to highlight its main stars as master improvisational funnymen (their dueling Michael Caine impersonations was the comedic high point of recent movie memory).  The prospect of seeing a sequel that essentially does the “same thing for a second time” may seem initially lacking in freshness, but my concerns were easily overridden based on the infectious charm of Coogan and Brydon…doing yet again what they do best…engaging in many spirited and amusing conversations while touring the lush countryside and cities and, yes, eating dishes that will make your mouths easily water.  THE TRIP TO ITALY is really hard to hate.   



In actuality, the only really new and inventive thing about this sequel is the change in setting.  Yet, as stated, the film more than makes up for its lack of invention in just how easy it is to get lost in its scenery and to witness Coogan and Brydon engaging in all sorts of verbal ribaldry.  For those uninitiated, the original film had the pair taking a tour of northern England’s Lake District to sample that region’s best restaurants as part of a magazine assignment.  This time, though, the pair reunites to engage on a trek through Italy – from Rome to Capri and other exotic locales  - to trace the literary footsteps and influences of Byron and Shelley…and all while stuffing their faces with the best pasta dishes the country has to offer.  Coogan believes that Italy was chosen to give Brydon an endless opportunity to engage in multiple Al Pacino impersonations throughout their journey.  He may be on to something, as his pal obliges him throughout. 

There’s really not much more to the plot of this film than what I’ve basically just described, other than the fact that they tour the country in a mini-Cooper convertible and sing along to the only CD that their have on their trip…Alanis Morissette’s JAGGED LITTLE PILL (don’t ask…but it’s pure unbridled silliness).   Of course, their travels take them to many locales that have been featured in many classic films ranging from CONTEMPT to LA DOLCE VITA to BEAT THE DEVIL, which essentially exists to catapult the stars into making many inspired speeches about the movies, their stars, and, of course, impersonations of famous celebs.  They even manage to discuss their own film careers in the process, which gives us some of the film’s best zinger moments.  When Coogan talks about his former NIGHT AT THE MUSEUM co-star Owen Wilson, Brydon hilariously asks, “I know you’ve been a miniature soldier with him, but do you actually hang out?”  Coogan responds, “We run together on the beach.”  Brydon retorts, “Is he aware you’re running together…or is he running away from you.” 

There’s more inspired tomfoolery.  Speaking of Toms, perhaps the most side-splitting exchange the pair have – over an exquisite multi-course pasta meal – is Tom Hardy’s performance in THE DARK KNIGHT RISES…which allows the pair to match each other’s wits in the Hardy impersonation front.  Brydon even manages a purposely-exaggerated impersonation of Hardy’s co-star Christian Bale (Coogan asks, “Is Christian Bale deaf?” after hearing it).  The pair come to the conclusion that Hardy and Bale’s soul purpose was to see which one could evoke the most indecipherably performance in the film….with poor Michael Caine stuck in the middle (yes, the Michael Caine impersonations are back…and thank God for that).  Yes, there are more famous people that they attempt to mimic, like Robert De Niro (just talk through your nose to perfect it) and Marlon Brando (stuff your face with dinner rolls for the proper Godfather effect).  The real pleasure of THE TRIP TO ITALY is the constant game of comic one-upmanship that these two extremely funny men engage in for nearly two hours.   

Even in the midst of the film’s wondrously high laugh quotient, THE TRIP TO ITALY does manage to get a bit melancholic in terms of its commentary on both Coogan’s and Brydon’s careers.  Brydon has never really achieved the same level of popular notoriety stateside as his pal and colleague.  Coogan has appeared in many noteworthy Hollywood productions, whereas Brydon is just trying to get his foot in the door.  There’s a subplot in THE TRIP TO ITALY where Brydon actually gets a call from his agent to audition for a role of a mob accountant in a new Michael Mann film, which could mean the launching point for a new career in feature films and more professional success.  Unfortunately along the way, Brydon finds himself succumbing to the advances of a younger woman that he meets, which results in some seriously bad choices for him.  It’s telling – and ultimately refreshing – to see a film staring an actor playing himself that’s not afraid to take chances in scenes that call into question his moral character.  Not many other Hollywood actors would keep their ego in check as much as Brydon does here. 

I’m not sure what else to say about this film…perhaps other than it looks jaw-droppingly gorgeous at times, thanks to Winterbottom’s painterly eye and James Clarke’s glossy and sumptuous cinematography that gives Italy – and the multitude of dishes that Coogan and Brydon gorge on – a painterly glow (it’s ultimately wonderful that the film is a exquisite looking as it is amusing).  I guess that THE TRIP TO ITALY does nothing really innovative that its antecedent didn’t do already…but I nevertheless found myself enjoying this TRIP even more.  For a film that has very little in terms of a plot, very little action, and, for the most part, has nothing more to it than two men driving, eating, conversing, and then driving, eating, and conversing some more…THE TRIP TO ITALY still emerges as a casual, but joyously engaging comedy romp with a sprinkle of melancholy thrown in for good measure at the expense of its two stars.  

Don’t worry, though...when the film looks like it may get too dark…Brydon breaks out a remarkably dead-on Hugh Grant impersonation to lighten things up…so there’s that. 

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