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Trip to Italy, The

Reviewed By Jay Seaver
Posted 05/15/14 13:42:08

"Well worth making a return trip."
4 stars (Worth A Look)

SCREENED AT INDEPENDENT FILM FESTIVAL BOSTON 2014: It's a rare sequel that can get away with the straight-up honesty of "The Trip to Italy", which starts with Rob Brydon telephoning Steve Coogan and saying that folks liked the last time they spent a week on a culinary road trip, so why not do it again? No excuses, no pretending there's some sort of conflict, just get to the table and find the first excuse to do dueling Michael Caine impressions.

As the title indicates, the sequel is a little fancier, with beautiful Italian breaches and hotels, and food that I'm sure tastes as good as it looks. Another switch-up has Brydon fretting over a part in an American production while Coogan makes noises about wanting to stay closer to home. Both, being well-read Brits in Italy, spend a lot of time pondering Lord Byron's travels there.

Director Michael Winterbottom has a writing credit this time around - something that was notably absent from the first movie - and there does seem to be a bit more of a pre-planned structure here, with supporting characters and a sense that Brydon & Coogan are progressing toward something rather than just reacting to what they encounter and each other. It's not a particularly heavy plot, just enough to keep things moving and give the stars some specific material to work with on one day or another, but there is is something to it: The pair are both pondering how much Byronian adventure they want in their lives compared to stability, especially as Coogan's work on an American television series has him missing his son while Brydon seems to be feeling his life is in a bit of a rut.

Mostly, though, the trip is once again an excuse to get Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon sitting either at a table or in a car and talking, an unusual sort of improvisation as these two frequent collaborators and (I presume) friends riff on exaggerated versions of themselves, slyly acknowledging the difference between character and actor early on with a bit that makes one realize what a funny word "affable" is. From there on, it's a steady stream of good jokes, filled with jabs at pop culture, more impressions, and the back and forth between two friendly colleagues who can't hide a certain amount of jealousy and envy. These guys are pros, excellent examples of the famed polite but barbed British wit, and they deploy it in steady, constantly-amusing fashion.

There's probably more to be found in the original BBC television series (like The Trip, this movie compresses six half-hour episodes into a two-hour film), although Winterbottom and a brace of editors do a fine job of seldom making it feel like anything is missing our that the rhythm is off because they are trying to fit all the "good parts" in. I suspect that foodies will have to go to the series to get their fill, as each stop on the road has just enough of a glance inside the kitchens and at the finished plates to tantalize but not much more. The audience gets other chances to play virtual tourist, and there aren't many shots of Italy that don't look great.

That's too be expected; the cast and crew are combining a format that has worked for them before with prettier scenery and more desirable meals. And why not? Coogan and Brydon are fine, witty company and the view and food are excellent; I suspect many will be up for another Trip as soon as they want to take it.

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