It took decades of biting, testy collaborations and the better part of two road-trip movies, but Rob Brydon finally makes his pal/sparring partner Steve Coogan crack up, laughing, in “The Trip to Italy.”
The formula of “The Trip” is repeated — two actors, one semi-famous with a reputation for unpleasantness, the other even less famous — off on a dining tour, riffing, debating, insulting and driving.
But this time, they’re sent to Italy instead of the north of England. Sunshine, local wines, pasta and winding roads along the Amalfi Coast, instead of grey skies, imported wines, wintry foods and pastoral backroads.
And they swap a Mini Cooper S —the last model before the company beefed-up the car and ruined it — for the Land Rover. So it’s an upgrade, all the way around.
Brydon, the Welsh comic with a mania for impersonations, is the instigator this time. They’re on assignment for a newspaper, hitting famous little hotels, lovely restaurants and a sort of poet’s tour of famous graves, abodes and movie settings from Alba to Capri, the dangerous narrow streets of Rome to the catacombs of Naples.
And at some point Coogan, who always plays a grumpy, envious letch, acknowledges that young women “look right through you” at his age, finally allows himself to giggle at Brydon’s incessant impersonations and free-form improvisations and admits what we’re all thinking.
“We’re living the dream.”
Rob is reading a Casanova biography along the way, and Rob and Steve tick off all the things he has in common with the famous lover, and one he doesn’t.
“Oh, you have a moral compass. You just don’t know where it is.”
One of them stumbles into bed with a woman not his wife, one has a reunion with a one-night stand from the first film.
One has an audition for a Michael Mann film and is determined to make the other jealous. And each tries to top the other with quick snippets of poetry in this land of Byron and Shelley.
“My soul is like an enchanted boat, which, like a sleeping swan, doth float,” Brydon croons.
“That’s Shelley, read by (Richard) Burton.”
Rob hides behind his many voices, never more amusingly than when he mocks the petrified dead in Pompeii.
A boat ride inspires roaring rants through the Anthony Hopkins/”Mad Max” version of “Mutiny on the Bounty.”
And the rest of the time? They’re in Italy, birthplace of “The Godfather.” And they’re in a Mini Cooper. “The Italian Job”, anyone?
“You were ONLY supposed to blow the bloody DOOR!”
As in “The Trip,” we’re treated to improvised dueling Michael Caines, Brandos, Pacinos, Bales and Hugh Grants.
“Is that your Hugh Grant?”
There’s a little guilt, moments when they ponder fleeting (near) fame and mortality, and a lot of eating, drinking and seeing the sights.
Which gives this “Trip” a leg up on the first “Trip,” an altogether more delightful vacation with two blokes who might wear us and each other out along the way.
But then, that’s half the fun.