- Benchwarmers Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon
If you enjoyed 2009's The Trip, you'll enjoy The Trip to Italy. Michael Winterbottom's new docu-comedy has more or less the same set-up as the first: British funnymen Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon play lightly fictionalized versions of themselves, ostensibly on a food-criticism tour, but mostly just riffing on topics great and small. This time, the action has been relocated from northern England to Italy. Needless to say, the weather is much sunnier.
Having seen The Trip is not a prerequisite for enjoying Italy; in fact, newcomers might find the material fresher. Even the pair starts the film carping about sequels before finishing up at a seaside hotel in Capri. In between there are riffs on cannibalizing Olympians and Alanis Morisette's Jagged Little Pill; telephonic check-ins with family members; further analysis of the actors who have portrayed James Bond; and trouble with Rome's infamous roadways. ("They've had 2,000 years to sort out their traffic system," huffs Coogan.)
Death is another perennial topic, much of it filtered through the pair's appreciation for Romantic poets; they flirt with a recreation of Shelley's funeral in Viareggio. A visit to Pompeii finds Brydon engaged in a funny-but-serious conversation with a plaster volcano victim in a vitrine, with Brydon deploying his signature "Small Man in a Box" shtick for ... a man in a box.
Five years on, the roles have slightly reversed, with Coogan more settled and Brydon steering into rougher domestic waters. But the pair wears their middle-aged insecurities as plainly as colorful holiday shirts. Such concerns are "solved" without much self-reflection in the traditional manner —alcohol, the lazy bit of unfaithfulness, and sniping about the other's career while bragging up their own. Coogan, reciting his eventual eulogy, claims six BAFTA awards. Brydon corrects him: "You only have five." "I'll have six by then," Coogan bites back.
The two aren't quite man-boys, but there's still a resistance to moving fully into adulthood, even at their advanced ages. Plenty of sensitivity is masked in humor — Brydon is incapable of quoting poetry unless he is using a funny voice — and the families and careers each man cares about are often blithely dismissed.
But none of this should suggest that Trip to Italy isn't an enjoyable, easygoing bit of drollery, with plenty of wit and yet another round of dueling James Bond impressions. If there's a caveat, it's that foodies should lower their expectations. There's some interstitial footage of fabulous-looking food being prepared, but Coogan and Brydon's "reviews" are limited to "very nice" and "lovely."