Film Review: The Trip to Italy

Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon work hard to be funny in this ultimate piece of luxuriant fluff requiring a surfeit of viewer indulgence.

Michael Winterbottom reteams with Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon for the third time (after Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story and The Trip) on a sojourn in Italy, where the two comedians eat Lucullan repasts and continually crack wise while purportedly writing a travel story. Their chemistry remains as wryly amusing as ever while staunchly maintaining an eternal diffidence in a patented Brit-hetero way, and this time the scenery is orgasmically beautiful, as they retrace the footsteps of the poet Byron during that Englishman's fabled time on that tourist-infested Boot.

The Trip to Italy gets off to an uproarious start over lunch with these masters of improv riffing an imaginary confrontation on the set of Batman between the equally incoherent Christian Bale and Tom Hardy, with a jab at Michael Caine thrown in for good measure. Unhappily, after this bracing, competitively comic bout, nothing quite matches it, and the movie becomes thin, with too many Al Pacino impersonations by Brydon. Actor imitations abound here, and it should be said that none of them is particularly great, although you can appreciate the droll effort that went into them. Coogan and Brydon have no interaction whatsoever with any of the natives apart from their wait staffs, being sure to murmur "Grazie" as they are served. (No wonder their only material seems to consist of industry jokes.) The attempts to plump up what plot there is via an adulterous indiscretion between the married Brydon and a female sailor on the Amalfi coast, as well as Coogan's nervous reunion with a woman he shagged in The Trip, have a hollow, rather self-indulgent ring to them. They also seem a weird audience cheat, mockumentary stuff which one fears is meant to evoke a deeper reaction in the viewer to the guys' human frailty, along with a certain wistful anomie amidst the luxury.

Indeed, “self-indulgent” becomes the keynote here, as the actors go to Pompeii and make not-so funny remarks about the frozen-in-lava victims they see there, and are shown a succession of insanely opulent hotel suites the average moviegoer will never be able to afford. The film devolves into a kind of condescending, un-ironic 1% farce, with obscenely mouth-watering shots of food preparation and presentation pictorially inserted at regular intervals. (A simple plate of buttery-looking ravioli, in a less than five-star trattoria at which the men look rather askance, actually appears far more appealing than the tiny dollops of exquisite, torturously arranged pasta in the upscale joints.)

The wind-down feels particularly wan and annoyingly complacent, with the arrival of Coogan's supposedly estranged son, who has been—boo-hoo—suffering with Mom in Ibiza, as Brydon continues his bad movie-star takeoffs and illicit flirtation. Coogan et fils seem to reach a rapport, with him somewhat loudly playing benevolent, deeply concerned papa on a luxury yacht. After hearing Daddy blithely drop names like Trey Parker, Matt Stone and Owen Wilson as representing the regular folk he just hangs out with in L.A., and both men barking orders for their bags to be brought up to their rooms and Mini-Cooper parked for them at yet another fabulous hostelry, you may well feel that this is the final trip you'll want to share with them.

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