Technically, The Trip to Italy is not really a film. Like its 2010 predecessor titled simply The Trip, this second road outing comes from a funny, faux documentary style, six episode BBC TV series. Director Michael Winterbottom carefully edited the series down to feature-film length and premiered the end result at the Sundance Film Festival in January. Oddly, the TV series didn’t premiere on BBC TV until April; four months after the film was first shown.
The Trip to Italy stars comic actors Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon, both well known TV personalities on their home turf though less so outside of the UK. The pairing of Coogan and Brydon began when they teamed together for director Winterbottom’s largely improvised 2005 comedy, A Cock and Bull Story. They played fictionalized, or perhaps more accurately, pompous versions of themselves using their real names and continually quoting their own career resumes. That blueprint is repeated on the two Trip films, though it’s here in the sequel where both formula and style work best.
Where The Trip had the two working acquaintances thrown together by The Observer newspaper to tour various restaurants in Northern England, The Trip to Italy has The Observer asking them to do the same thing; this time on the continent. “It seems odd to do something the second time,” Coogan states to Brydon as they set off, but that’s exactly what they’re doing, only this time it’s in a more exotic locale; Italy, from Liguria to Capri with platefuls of pasta and Bolognese sauce in-between.
Both Coogan and Brydon are funny and talented mimics and like their first outing together most of the film centers on their improvised conversations at the dinner table while waiting for their food. “We’re not doing any impersonations, are we,” Coogan says to Brydon while preparing for their overseas sojourn. “We talked about that.” But within minutes of their first stop, the two can’t help themselves.
The car they’ve rented is a British Mini Cooper – of course. The sight of that iconic UK vehicle winding its way through the twists and turns of the Italian countryside immediately and intentionally evoke memories of Michael Caine’s The Italian Job – the 1969 British original, not the 2003 remake with Mark Wahlberg. “You’re only supposed to blow the bloody doors off!” shouts Coogan at the dinner table in his best and most famous of all Michael Caine movie quotes, while Brydon tries to top his companion with a Caine impression from Batman’s The Dark Knight Rises. This then leads into a truly hilarious conversation regarding the inarticulate mumblings of Tom Hardy as Bane and Christian Bale’s Batman.
Throughout the film, each pit stop at either a hotel or a restaurant results with what sounds like a freestyle serving of unstructured conversations where both Coogan and Brydon comment on the state of each other’s career and who can do the best impersonation. Even when they spend a day at sea on a yacht they end up trying to outdo the other with their best serving of Sir Anthony Hopkins as Captain Bligh in Mutiny on the Bounty.
Despite the overall feel of a documented free-for-all, there’s actually a structure to the film. Coogan is having a problem with his teenage son who eventually flies out to Italy and joins dad on the final leg of the tour, while Brydon is negotiating an acting role in a Michael Mann Hollywood thriller. When he tries to tell his wife of his surprise career development, she’s not really listening and would rather get off the phone. This leads to an overnight tryst in a hotel room with Lucy (Rosie Fellner) after Brydon woos her with his best Hugh Grant impersonation on the beach. In the morning when he wakes and sees Lucy asleep by his side and realizes what has happened he does what any good impersonator would do; he looks out of the hotel bedroom window and quotes Hugh Grant’s opening obscenities from Four Weddings and a Funeral.
Like an enjoyable vacation that you wished had a couple of extra days still to go the film, the dinner table conversations between the two very funny men end all too suddenly. The film simply stops. The seemingly random style of events may not be for everyone, plus not all audiences stateside will get certain references or some of the British personality impersonations – a lengthy Michael Parkinson impression may fall flat simply because most won’t know who the journalist and TV presenter is – but listening to Coogan and Brydon continually trying to outdo each other at the table never grows old. If there’s a third outing where the comedians travel across Germany sampling plates of wiener schnitzels along the way, I’m packing my bags with them. And like the recent Chef and The One-Hundred Foot Journey that had prepared food as its base, don’t go in to The Trip to Italy hungry. You won’t survive.
MPAA Rating: Unrated Length: 108 Minutes Overall Rating: 7 (out of 10)