Thoughtful reviews, the Boulder film scene

" For your information, my life is a living Hell "
— Elizabeth Hurley (as the devil), Bedazzled

MRQE Top Critic

The Great Train Robbery

(review...)

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About The Trip (the 2010 predecessor to The Trip to Italy) I wrote that the comics were appealing and their impressions were very good, but also that you could see how, after one or two evenings together, “Steve Coogan” and “Rob Brydon” would become insufferable dinner companions — trotting out the same jokes, rehashing the same impressions of Michael Caine....

And yet, here we are with a sequel and me eagerly lining up to see it.

The Italian Job

Brydon and Coogan work in Italy
Brydon and Coogan work in Italy

Like its predecessor, The Trip to Italy was created as a six-part series on British television, then re-edited as a feature film for those of us outside the U.K.

British comics Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon play characters named “Steve Coogan” and “Rob Brydon.” They are sent on a road trip to write restaurant reviews for a London newspaper, following the success of their previous reviews from Northern England. They are also following Byron and Shelley’s footsteps through Italy.

Coogan drives them in the Mini Cooper that Brydon booked as an excuse to do impressions of Michael Caine in The Italian Job. Coogan tries stop that fire before it can start, saying “you’re not going to be doing any impersonations, are you, because we talked about that....” But it’s a futile attempt. One of Brydon’s go-to impressions is Al Pacino because, after all, The Godfather, Part II is the one movie sequel (wink) that was as good as the original.

Coogan also anticipates Brydon’s overloaded and over-eclectic iPod and pointedly denies tampering with the connection in order to stop the opera attack before it starts. In the end they (and we) are stuck with the one CD either of them brought: Alanis Morisette’s Jagged Little Pill.

Side Trips

Of course the film is episodic; that’s its nature. The scenes of driving in Rome invite chat about La Dolce Vita and Roman Holiday. Pompeii allows discourse about mortality, something on the minds of these aging friends. And a gorgeous hotel on a cliff where Beat the Devil was filmed with Humphrey Bogart and Gina Lollobrigida launches one on nostalgia and beauty.

Director Michael Winterbottom uses multiple cameras to capture the bantering conversations at table or in transit. That allows him to capture the comedic performances with minimal intrusion or set-up. That works very well for Coogan and Brydon’s improvisational style.

Our characters have evolved in the last three years. Steve says he’s not drinking these days (then drinks anyway). They both have family back at home. Coogan’s teenage son is traveling with his mother, but wants to spend more time with his dad who is more likely to treat him an adult. Brydon’s crying infant child is at home with an exhausted and resentful-sounding wife.

Coogan and Brydon mope about getting older, noticing that young women seem to look right through them. Brydon does have some success in trying out for a Michael Mann film via Skype and iPad video. But his mid-life-crisis thinking later gets him into a bit of marital trouble.

Never As Good As the First Time

It’s been a long time since I saw The Trip, and I only saw it once, but it seems to me that this second outing is gloomier and less funny than the first. Perhaps it’s just a minor case of familiarity breeding contempt. Rob Brydon reaches for so many impressions that it seems to be a sort of pathological way of distancing himself from reality. It’s entertaining to see him and Coogan dueling, but individually, they’re each kind of sad. That’s not necessarily bad, but it may not be what you expect if you thought The Trip was a comedy.

Then there are the references this American didn’t get. Mo Farah? Michael Bublé? Maybe it’s just me.

I don’t want to be too hard on The Trip to Italy. I have the impression that Winterbottom, Coogan and Brydon were simply reacting to the audience’s appreciation for The Trip. We demanded more and so they gave it to us. But if the film’s somber and un-funny ending was a plea to release them from any pressure to make a third, I absolve them.