“The Trip” was a movie that I just happened upon while scrolling through the Netflix app on our XBoX one night. I was looking for something a little different, and saw the description of the movie and thought: “What the hell. If I don’t like it, I can turn it off. After all, it’s not like I’m renting the DVD. This is Netflix streaming for Christ’s sake. It’s all you can eat.” At first, I wasn’t too taken with the premise: two guys who are acquainted with each other professionally as actors, set off to the north of England to eat at some high-end restaurants and later write up their impressions of the food. Steve Coogan is the one given the assignment, and because he can’t get anyone else to join him, he calls Rob Brydon to see if he’s interested. Rob agrees, and the two of them get in a car and motor off on their adventure. It’s clear from the outset, that Coogan is not thrilled with this arrangement, but Brydon seems game and after a while, the two of them are doing impressions of famous actors (most notably Michael Caine) that can be pretty spot on at times. Their impressions become a kind of competition between them to see who can do better lines and prove who the better actor is. Coogan and turn it off, but Brydon is the kind of comic actor who is almost always “on” — which grates on Coogan’s nerves at times. Their conversations and impressions throughout the film are pretty funny. The two of them are clearly talented, and while they don’t quite enjoy each other’s company, they become a kind of odd couple who show parts of their personal life throughout the film. In “The Trip,” Coogan is the one who is going through a mid-life crisis with the break-up of a relationship, a sense that his better days are behind him, and generally is sullen about being over 40. Brydon, however, is a new father, loves people, generally likes to laugh, and is much more optimistic about his career at this stage. They are a study in contrasts, yet they are kind of the same person who are split into “brooding” and “sunny” dispositions. The film was fun to watch for me mostly because I’m very much like the two actors: always doing impressions of people (not necessarily famous ones), trying out accents, and creating little scenes that I act out in front of my family. Julie and Maya have both said that this movie is like if I took a vacation by myself, and I think they are probably right. Acting out is fun for me, but it can be incredibly annoying after a while when the jokes kind of run their course.
With the follow-up, “The Trip to Italy,” both Coogan and Brydon acknowledge the “sequel” of the original adventure won’t be as good (i.e., the dreaded sophomore slump), but they agree to go to Italy and take their wit and small amount of wisdom with them. At first, the impressions seem stale because we’ve seen them before, but Brydon keeps his Michael Caine impressions to a minimum. Instead, he seems stuck on Al Pacino but can’t seem to muster a very good impression of him — which Coogan notes by criticizing Brydon for his constant eye-rolling and lip-licking. He’s also pretty lousy at doing Woody Allen, but can nail Hugh Grant — often with some very funny lines.
Coogan, on the other hand, seems to have lighten up. No longer is he the brooding and bitter actor who is unsatisfied with his career. Instead, he’s ready to make a change and come back to England to be near his teenage son, and he seems like Brydon more. It’s Brydon, though, who has the mid-life crisis of sorts. His marriage is a bit rocky, and he longs to feel funny (and wanted) in front of women — which he is. He meets (and beds) a pilot of boat who takes the two of them to a far-flung part of Italy to one of their eating assignments. Initially, Brydon feels guilty about stepping out on his wife, but later realizes that his fling truly likes him for the silly person he is (while his wife was grown tired of it). This causes him to reconsider his journey home to reconnect with his new paramour and find some personal happiness — much like Coogan laments he does not have in “The Trip.”
“The Trip to Italy” doesn’t entirely misfire as a sequel, but it does have moments that lag and needs a goose in the butt to get it to go in a fresh direction. Sometimes, that does occur, but more often than not, the story doesn’t progress beyond much of what was explored in the first film. Still, if you like the funny impressions, and the contrast of an English and Welsh view of the world, I think you’ll find “The Trip to Italy” mildly amusing — but make sure you see “The Trip” first.