Starring Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon. Rated PG.
Like The Trip, its 2010 forebear, The Trip to Italy is a lightly boiled-down version of a Brit TV series—again directed by versatile Michael Winterbottom—about two fellows very much like Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon, eating, drinking, and showing off their duelling Michael Caine impressions to unsuspecting restaurantgoers.
Here, Brydon makes a point of bringing an English Mini Cooper to the land of the Fiat 500, driving Coogan to hot spots in or near Rome, Naples, and the Amalfi Coast. For some reason, the Observer has asked Brydon to write a feature about the eateries of Italy. He doesn’t take notes or even comment on the spectacular food they are served. (We’re shown kitchen-life high points along the way; don’t go in hungry.)
But the Welsh actor is retracing the steps of tragic expats Shelley and Lord Byron, and has memorized key lines of their poetry, all disgorged with the dulcet tones of Hugh Grant or Anthony Hopkins, much to the dismay of Coogan, who accuses his best frenemy of being insecure about his own voice.
This problem is exacerbated when Brydon is asked to audition for a Hollywood mob flick, and he can’t rein in his Al Pacino impressions—except when switching to Woody Allen. This can be irritating to this Trip’s audience, as well, but is highly amusing when the duo’s compulsion to mock the affected extends further afield, to Christian Bale and, best of all, Gore Vidal. The largely improvised movie has a running gag about Canadian pop music, with unexpected discussion of the relative merits of Alanis Morissette versus Avril Lavigne—when the Verdi’s not blasting.
Overall, this handsomely shot effort finds Coogan in a subdued mood, with the between-jobs actor busy Skyping his fictional 16-year-old son (Timothy Leach) and increasingly concerned with mortality. Brydon’s character takes on an extra share of neuroses, talking too much and cheating on his wife (also fictional) with a comely tour guide (Rosie Fellner). These turns add up to a more melancholic journey, despite the sun-drenched luxury, and our epicurean heroes know it—as revealed in riffs on the nature of sequels, which Coogan admits are usually “damp squibs” compared with the originals. But as long as the squibs are pan-seared with capers in garlic-infused olive oil, who cares?