BRITISH COMEDIANS Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon have figured out the ultimate racket. They've somehow convinced the BBC to send themselves and director Michael Winterbottom on sightseeing trips ostensibly geared around local gastronomy. In 2010, they visited some of the best restaurants in the north of England for a six-episode series called The Trip, which was edited into a feature film for the US. Now they're back with The Trip to Italy—another six episodes, another condensed feature film for American theaters.
Coogan and Brydon aren't food critics, or even particularly knowledgeable about what they're eating. But while The Trip and The Trip to Italy have dubious culinary merit, they're terrifically hilarious, thanks to Coogan and Brydon's bitchy, improvised banter and dueling competitive streaks. The Trip to Italy might be the better film: Unlike 2010's sometimes choppy and repetitive The Trip, this one flows smoothly and naturally, building to a quiet, thoughtful ending.
Coogan and Brydon both seem more reflective this time around—perhaps due to the astonishingly gorgeous Italian backdrop, traveling from the Italian Riviera, through Tuscany to Rome and the Amalfi Coast before ending in Capri. The actors' back-and-forth is still as funny as it gets, but it's not as frantic or angry as before; they're both feeling the dulling effects of age, even as they imagine themselves the modern-day equivalents of Byron and Shelley. Back in their hotel rooms, Coogan tries to connect with his son via Skype as Brydon tries to land a part in an American gangster movie with his best Pacino impression.
Even with barely a wisp of plot, the sometimes-melancholy The Trip to Italy is surprisingly involving—it's as good a travelogue as it is a comedy. After seeing it, you'll want to book a flight to Italy pronto. Whether you have friends as funny as Coogan and Brydon to join you is another story.