Starring Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon. Directed by Michael Winterbottom. 107 minutes. PG
Two guys on a food tour across the dreary English countryside. Only Brits can take this kind of premise and turn it into a popcorn-spitting, Sprite-through-the-nose comedy. Michael Winterbottom's deadpan road movie, The Trip, reunites Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon who starred together in the director's 2005 comedy A Cock and Bull Story. This time, the duo--playing slightly inflated versions of themselves--are on a sojourn through the country that turns sit-down meals and half-hour drives into complete and utter farces.
Steve Coogan plays, well, Steve Coogan, an actor-slash-writer who's been given the arduous task of touring and reviewing northern England's finest restaurants. When his girlfriend is unable to join, he invites his friend Rob Brydon on the trip. The pair hits the road, stopping at various hotels and sampling menus along the way, but the brooding Coogan and high-spirited Brydon couldn't be more different. As they spend their days eating meals together, they begin to grate on one another in the hilarious way that only polite Brits are capable of. The end result is a number of side-splitting sketches executed over steaming plates of scallops (The Trip, by the way, might as well be called Scallops: The Movie).
Most of the film's sketches are difficult to isolate because they're so well embedded in the flow of the plot. A quick drive from one hotel to another ends up in a harmonizing sesh between Coogan and Brydon, while a drink at the bar calls for a dissection of ABBA's "The Winner Takes It All." In a word: random.
But every trip has its highlights, and if you ask most people, you'd be hard-pressed to find anyone who doesn't mention Coogan and Brydon's Michael Caine impressions. Why such a thing would come up in conversation remains a mystery, but anything goes on this particular roadtrip. The moment Brydon takes on the inveterate British actor's accent, it's game over for anyone with a sense of humour. Although Coogan attempts his own Caine impression, the Welsh-born Brydon, who got his start as a voice artist, is the clear victor.
Despite the folly, The Trip does give us some character development when it comes to Coogan, who struggles for validation in his career. The actor believes he deserves Hollywood stardom and roles in Coen Brothers films, but only seems to get offered unappealing television pilots. Ultimately, Coogan's insecurity fuels his resentment for an oblivious Brydon, happily married with a new baby, who only seems to see the good in his friend. It's an interesting dynamic, and one that puts a little meat on the bones of the film.
Though The Trip is, for the most part, hilarious, it isn't without its lulls. Even Michael Caine impressions become stale, and the number of gourmet meals consumed by Coogan and Brydon will put you off seafood forever. Eventually, you're reminded that this really is a film about two men on a food tour. But for those moments when the diabolical pair produce a yarn so layered and absurd you can't help but marvel, it really is one hell of a trip. B+