The notion of a sequel is addressed early on in The Trip to Italy, a sequel of its own to 2012’s The Trip. British comedians Rob Brydon and Steve Coogan, once again playing “themselves”, debate the merits of sequels during one delectable dinner on their road trip. Brydon defends them, citing The Godfather Part II as a good example. Coogan counterpoints with his belief that everyone always uses that one movie as an example, and clearly dislikes sequels in general. Coogan has a good point. Most sequels never live up to their predecessors, and while The Trip to Italy doesn’t surpass The Trip, that doesn’t mean it isn’t a successful undertaking.
This theatrical, edited-down version of the BBC miniseries may not be as consistent as its predecessor, but remains one of the funniest films to arrive on any shore in 2014. Its plot is simple, and nearly duplicates the first film: Brydon and Coogan travel the Italian countryside (which replaces England), following in the footsteps of poets Shelley and Byron (who replace Coleridge and Wordsworth) and write down their dining experiences in the form of restaurant reviews for UK’s Guardian newspaper. It’s “second verse, same as the first.” Thank God.
What makes both Trip films work are the contrasting personalities of comedians Brydon and Coogan. While they’re playing fictionalized versions of themselves, the actors’ styles and careers are quite different. Brydon is a comedian who wants the world to love him, a family man, and a showoff. Coogan is an edgier comic, a former lothario who’s easily embarrassed by his friend’s goofy demeanor. If these movies didn’t have this friendly tension, they would become insufferable. Instead, it’s entertaining to watch Brydon break down Coogan, forcing the oft-shielded comedian to let down his guard and laugh (Brydon imitating UK TV host Michael Parkinson interviewing Coogan is a prime example of such a breakdown).
There is a bit of plot to keep the duo somewhat grounded. In between the meals and adventures, Brydon has an affair with a tour guide and later discovers he has an audition set for a role in an upcoming Michael Mann film. A now-sober Coogan deals with his unhappy son and a cancelled TV series. Both of these through-lines work better than they did in The Trip, especially Coogan’s. His character has done some soul searching since the first film, and appears to have finally grown up in between his epic travels. After his son joins the two comics on their trip, Coogan takes him out for a swim. “I’ll have you and your mother over for ricotta,” he says. “It’s a work in progress, but I’m getting there.” It’s these moments of sweetness that sell the film as more than just a gimmick.
Such sweetness doesn’t get in the way of those always welcomed celebrity imitations, which return with full force. While not as fresh as they were in the original, they remain highly effective. There’s Michael Caine (“I’m not gonna bury another Batman”), Roger Moore (“Move!”), and the film’s highlight: dueling Anothony Hopkins circa The Bounty, set to Strauss’ “Im Abendrot”, as the two sail along the Italian coast (“Damn your eyes!”). The Bane/Batman imitations wear thin fairly quick, but it’s in these moments between the two friends that highlight the overarching theme of The Trip films: congenial jousts with imitations replacing lances.
Returning director Michael Winterbottom allows his leads to do their thing, but never neglects the Italian locales or mouth-watering cuisines. There are some truly gorgeous overhead shots of the two dining in Liguria, sailing in the sun-kissed waters of Amalfi and Capri, and driving through Tuscany, all with appropriate stops at various eateries. In between the laughs, Winterbottom supplies us with visuals that cry out to the viewer, “Come and visit us! Enjoy our architecture! Use ancient Pompeii for a comedic bit! Eat our food!” With a beautiful score, food galore, breathtaking locations, and second-to-none chemistry between its two leads, The Trip to Italy is worth the cost of travel (if you didn’t like that play on the film’s title, then damn your eyes!).