By Bill Wine
KYW Newsradio 1060
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Eating and talking.
That’s about the gist of The Trip to Italy, the followup to 2011’s The Trip.
But what eating and what talking it is.
Oh, and one other thing: consummate comic chemistry, compliments of co-stars Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon.
In the minimalist road-trip comedy, The Trip, fashioned from a British television series, comedians/actors Coogan and Brydon, playing fictionalized versions of themselves, joked their way through director Michael Winterbottom’s generously improvised comedy about two comedians who, for a magazine assignment, travel around and sample the fine-dining establishments in the Lake District in northern England so they can review them for The Observer.
It played like the cousin of My Dinner with Andre – call it My Dinners with Steve and Rob – and it was leisurely and pleasurable throughout and occasionally laugh-out-loud funny.
The gustatory-travelogue sequel, The Trip to Italy, is similarly enjoyable – and similarly edited down from a six-part BBC miniseries to an appropriately breezy feature-film running time — so it’s as densely packed with funny bits as a highlight reel.
It also offers the bonus of the sun-drenched Italian coastline as the dining duo visit six restaurants in six Italian cities, beginning in Liguria and finishing up in Capri. And there’s a melancholy undercurrent about mortality and life’s brevity that somehow adds gravitas without slowing down the barrage of humor.
This time it’s Rob on assignment and he asks Steve to come along for a journey in their rented Mini Cooper convertible.
Veteran British director Winterbottom (Welcome to Sarajevo, A Mighty Heart, Wonderland, 24 Hour Party People, Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story, The Look of Love) — who is also credited as the writer, but should actually be sharing credit with his two improv-riffing leads — has concocted what will be a deja-viewing experience for members of the target audience, to be sure. But it’s a hoot whether you’ve seen the first film or not.
Although there are times when the rest of their lives – family, career, health, whatever – intrudes on the trip at hand, it’s pretty much the art of conversation that’s on display here, with more than a few showbiz impersonations of wildly varying quality.
And it turns out to be quite a spectator sport, full of not only erudition and eloquence and escapism but competition, pettiness, insecurity, anxiety, resentment, and oneupsmanship, all of which are prominent on the film’s menu.
And although some of the same topics and impressions and gags are rolled out that we’re already familiar with, we don’t mind because they deserve an additional airing and hold up accordingly, especially for film buffs, who will pick up on more references than those around them because the protagonists are pop culture-obsessed, to say the least, and most of us are the better for it.
As for the food, it’s no more highlighted or discussed than the scenery, but it’s shot with mouth-watering delight in a movie that doles out small portions, all tasty.
Lots of summer movies are the equivalent of a funhouse or a roller coaster at an amusement park, By contrast, this one is the equivalent of a relaxed sumptuous meal in a casually spectacular setting: nice work if you can get it.
Or, to put it another way, with comedy as with food, more of the same is fine as long as the same was good in the first place.
And that’s the case with The Trip to Italy, which offers little in the way of surprise or innovation, but this movable feast is a second eavesdropper’s delight.
So we’ll digest 3 stars out of 4. Prepare to exit hungry, perhaps for linguini or calamari or ravioli – or perhaps just for a third helping of time spent with the same witty, bantering frenemies.