Starring: Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon
Directed by: Michael Winterbottom (“The Trip,” “24 Hour Party People”)
Written by: Michael Winterbottom (“Everyday,” “9 Songs”)
British actors Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon are far from household names here in the U.S. Sharp-eyed fans who know Coogan from his famous-in-the-UK character Alan Partridge by way of Netflix may remember him popping up in stuff like “Tropic Thunder,” “Night at the Museum,” and the Oscar-nominated “Philomena,” but Rob Brydon? Who is this guy? I mean, other than the guy we saw teamed up with Coogan last time around in 2010’s “The Trip?”
Regardless, the duo is back together—again playing semi-fictionalized versions of themselves–in the TV-series-turned-film sequel “The Trip To Italy.” This time around Coogan and Brydon are set to tour Italy, following in the culinary footsteps of poets while eating some amazing Italian cuisine. Along the way they toss dueling Christian Bale Batman impressions at one another, listen to mid-’90s Alanis Morissette, and shoot an audition tape for a Michael Mann film. The whole affair is underscored by huge dollops of dry British banter and the occasional twinge of the creeping doubt of success in middle age.
Coogan and Brydon are pleasant enough and their incredible chemistry can’t be denied. “The Trip To Italy,” however, has the general sense of going through the motions. Did you like the Michael Caine impressions in the first film? Like a meal you enjoyed before, they’re back, but the thrill of being new has worn off. The movie threatens to go in interesting directions, yet the Michael Mann audition and a sweet, slightly desperate extramarital affair thread fizzle out to make way for more food and witty banter. The film’s origin as a TV series, like its predecessor, perhaps are a better vehicle for the sometimes plotless diversions featuring the two veteran entertainers bouncing off one another. Checking in once a week for 30 minutes at a time seems like a more agreeable serving size; at feature length, the film begins to resemble the soft music at a fine restaurant: nothing more than background noise.