Two dry wits chow down meals and chew the fat as they traverse the English countryside.
This is not a pitch that would cut it in Hollywood,but thankfully,director Michael Winterbottom never much thinks about what Hollywood wants.
Winterbottoms ”The Trip mostly delights as the filmmaker follows Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon on a trek to review half a dozen restaurants.
Its a continuation of the riffing Coogan and Brydon did on their real personas in Winterbottoms ”Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story as the two friends prattle,trade insults,do hilarious impersonations and generally try to one-up each other.
The result is occasionally repetitive and borders on tiresome now and then. Yet Coogan and Brydon,building their performances largely through improvisation,have such rapport that its easy to digest their brand of affectionate chatter laced with mildly mean-spirited ribbing.
If you were sitting at the next table and overheard these guys cataloging the rights and wrongs of each others talents and career choices,you might roll your eyes at their pettiness.
If you overheard their vocal duels as they mimic such actors as Al Pacino,Michael Caine and the various men who have played James Bond,youd likely be snorting with laughter and telling the waiter,”Give me whatever theyre having. ”The Trip is a big-screen condensation of Winterbottoms six-part series that aired on British television.
Playing a loose version of himself,Coogan (who also starred in Winterbottoms ”24 Hour Party People and had a small but memorable role in ”Tropic Thunder) takes an assignment to review restaurants in a resort area of rural northwest England.
On the outs with his girlfriend and unable to get anyone else to come along,Coogan invites pal and sometime colleague Brydon (known mainly as a British TV comedy star and panel-show host) to join him.
Along the way,they bicker,chortle,debate the classic English poets and dissect each others personal and professional lives with chummy slyness and more than a little spite.
Coogans the diva,always aiming to position himself as the alpha male of the two,yet he lets deep insecurities show through as his character ponders his successes and failures against Brydons self-assuredness and satisfaction with his lot in life.
The meals themselves,and particularly Coogan and Brydons reactions to the delicacies they consume,drag on a bit. ”The Trip often is at its best when the two are on the move,passing the driving time with hysterically funny reimaginings of Hollywood costume-drama dialogue or speculating about the Brits who came before them while visiting historical landmarks.
Winterbottom punctuates their trip with gorgeous shots of the rolling countryside,images lovingly complemented by spare pastoral music from Michael Nyman.
The film closes with snapshots of Coogan and Brydon readjusting once they return to their lives in the city. It provides a very authentic sense of that dream-like feeling people often have coming home from a trip. Youre tired,youre glad to be back in familiar surroundings,yet you still feel in motion and maybe regret losing that sense of freedom,disconnection and camaraderie you had out on the road,away from it all.
So too,”The Trip leaves you contemplating what youve seen through Coogan and Brydons eyes _ and feeling kind of sorry that youve parted ways with these guys.
”The Trip, an IFC Films release,is not rated but contains adult themes and some sexual content. Running time: 111 minutes. Three stars out of four.