The Trip opens Friday in select theaters (see times below)
If Cars 2 is this weekend’s gleaming Hummer of a movie, then the low-budget jape of The Trip is a restored 1980s Monte Carlo. Or perhaps it’s an old MG.
In any event, the reliably adventurous Michael Winterbottom (24 Hour Party People, In This World, 9 Songs, A Cock and Bull Story) has latched onto a pretty foolproof low-budget gambit with this amiable, often riotous road film. Here, his frequent co-conspirators Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon star as entertainers modeled on themselves. When Coogan (Coogan) is hired by the London Observer to take a foodie vacation tour of the north’s finest restaurants, he turns to Brydon (Brydon) for company after his latest girlfriend, an American, blows him off at the last minute.
The two of them hit the road together, traveling in a region of England that is rarely seen in films (or even by English citizens): North Yorkshire, Cumbria and the lake country of Wordsworth and Coleridge, all misty moors and rugged mountains north and east of Liverpool but below the Scottish border. Coogan and Brydon sleep in a succession of remarkably remote, quaint, historical inns, and they drink and dine in remarkably haute cuisine restaurants. We never see Coogan do any writing about the food afterward, although there is a scene in which the two comrades-in-forks read a passel of others’ reviews of a restaurant that left them baffled.
Although their antics at times feint toward a satirical pillaging of foodie-ism, the pair’s routine is really about showbiz. A running feature of their act is a gold mine: Coogan and Brydon riff on famous actors and perform dueling impressions as well. The Michael Caine scene is a keeper, but Dustin Hoffman, Hugh Grant, Richard Burton, Al Pacino and many more come in for mimicry.
Their comic characters are well-honed, and probably well-earned: Coogan plays a fatuous, narcissistic actor who’s more famous for being nearly famous than for his talents (and the real Coogan has been blamed as a malign influence on others, including poor Owen Wilson). Although Coogan mopes about his absent girlfriend through the course of the film, he casually beds the women he encounters and then forgets them immediately. “Sex without love is an empty experience,” he concedes, in the guise of Woody Allen, “but as empty experiences go, it’s one of the best.”
Meanwhile, Brydon, a brilliant vocal impressionist, plays the sidekick role and is given a happy, fuzzy home life in sharp contrast to Coogan’s dissipation. But of course, both are brilliant comedians, and they have a finely tuned shtick born of more than a decade of collaboration, including the leads in Winterbottom’s Cock and Bull.
The film, which was edited together from a six-episode series for British television, shows its cable-television roots: It’s a single-camera sitcom without a laugh track, in which the action tends to flow from an obnoxiously self-regarding comedy performer. In other words, it’s a bit like Curb Your Enthusiasm, but cut from the native cuisine of Posh Nosh, with a few bold American flavors reminiscent of Eastbound and Down, along with a helping of some of the innumerable food porn shows on television, complete with close-ups of line cooks turning scallops in butter. Bon appétit.