By ANGELA DAWSON
Front Row Features
The charming “The Trip to Italy” is the sequel to Michael Winterbottom’s 2010 comedy “The Trip,” starring Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon. In the earlier film, the British comedians played versions of themselves as Coogan went on assignment for a newspaper reviewing the fine restaurants of Northern England, accompanied by his friend Brydon.
In “The Trip to Italy,” also helmed by Winterbottom, the middle-aged friends make their way around the title country (also for a newspaper article) in the footsteps of Lord Byron and Shelley. While Coogan’s and Brydon’s observations about the Romantic poets are insightful and funny, it’s their impressions of actor sand quips about movies (and the pros and cons of sequels) that are laugh out loud funny. Their reenactment of Michael Caine as Alfred the Butler trying to figure out what Christian Bale’s unintelligible Batman and Tom Hardy’s equally indecipherable Bane are saying to each other in “The Dark Knight Rises,” makes for hilarious dinner conversation.
American audiences will be familiar with Coogan, from his roles in “Tropic Thunder,” “A Night at the Museum” and “The Other Guys.” He also co-starred with Dame Judi Dench in last year’s tearjerker “Philomena,” for which he received Academy Award nominations for writing and producing.
The lesser-known Brydon, a Welshman, is a veteran of British television and radio. He serves up dead-on impersonations of Jude Law, Hugh Grant and others in this delectable road comedy sequel.
With a backdrop of Italy’s picturesque wine country and seaside, the old friends tool around most of the time in a rented convertible Mini sharing their insights with one another as they stop long enough to feast on the finest cuisine and stay at luxurious and scenic hotels. Songs from Alanis Morissette’s 1995 “Jagged Little Pill” serve as the trip’s soundtrack, as the travelers discuss the merits and shortcomings of that album. Their playful jabs at Ricky Gervais, Avril Lavigne and even Coogan’s Alan Partridge character are mixed with fictionalized moments as the divorced Coogan phones his teenage son back home in England and the married Brydon has a one-night-stand that may be something more.
Winterbottom deftly captures the idyllic Italian landscape and the scrumptious Italian dishes, even offering glimpses of the hardworking chefs and bustling wait staff in the hot kitchens juxtaposed with the opulent dining rooms where the chatty British travelers enjoy the fruits of their labors.
While some supporting characters are sprinkled throughout the film, like the character of Steve’s teenage son Joe (Timothy Leach), his dutiful production assistant Emma (Claire Keelan) and the irresistible tour guide Lucy (Rosie Fellner), “The Trip to Italy” is largely an improvised two-hander with Coogan and Brydon. As the credits roll, you can’t help but wonder where in the world they will turn up next.