The Trip… is a comedy franchise built around two men playing outsized versions of their real selves. If you don’t know the drill it goes like this: Two A-List British performers banter their way across Europe in an SUV while paying scant attention to the food they are meant to be reviewing. It is both improvised and contrived, and a lot deeper and cleverer than it might first appear.
Rob Brydon is a relaxed and genuinely laugh-out-loud funny guy, while Steve Coogan is a suave ladies’ man (he is 52, his picturesque girlfriend is 19) with two Oscar nominations and more BAFTAs than you can shake a stick at. His specialty is irony, and a particular kind of irony at that. He is a British Jacques Tati, a French comedian who made famous a style of comedy built around an ironic character without a sense of irony, one Monsieur Hulot. Coogan has excelled in this style, and his most famous creation, Radio DJ Steve Partridge, is the modern standard for the ‘ironic non-ironic man child’.
Brydon’s is a broader sort of funny man whose fame making gag is a vocal trick called ‘man in a box’. In his lilting Welsh brogue, Brydon explains to Coogan, “You might have Oscar nominations but I have got ‘the man in a box’. And you can’t do that can you?” Coogan does not get the industry respect he imagines a two-time Oscar nominee deserves, while it just kind of gravitates toward an otherwise oblivious Brydon.
Impersonations are the duo’s stock in trade and all the favourites are here, though Michael Caine and Sean Connery were a bit seen-and-heard-it-all-before. The Mick Jagger piece is an instant classic, as is the Roger Moore, especially the scene where the two men set off on an epic riff while entertaining guests, the best of several ‘riffs’ dedicated to the late Bond star. However, the Lennon, Ringo and McCartney stuff failed to fire.
Of all the set pieces, the ‘driving a left hand car on a right hand road’ gag is the most subversive and compelling. Oblivious father of two Brydon sits near the centre of hairy mountain roads while Coogan drives his left hand V8 Range Rover hard against the cliff faces and blind corners. Almost Father Ted in its ludicrousness, it’s a disaster waiting to happen, but is played out with such delicacy that it’s almost invisible. This is the director’s little joke, and a reminder that this buddy movie has a third player, the guy behind the camera.
Deft panoramic shots of wild Spanish countryside set the scene, while the poignant ‘Windmills Of Your Mind’ colours the backdrop against which the two men try to outdo each other’s whimsy, and just as it starts to feel like it needs to end, it almost does, drawing out to a closing scene that is pure post-modern Monty Python.
The Trip… began as a TV series back in 2010 (a road journey cross Northern England) and was later edited into a feature film by Director Michael Winterbottom. It did well enough for another series/film in 2014. The Trip To Italy was humdinger hit but the latest, The Trip To Spain, is more sideways than forwards. Coogan and Brydon have the potential to be one of the more enduring straight man/funny man acts of the early 21st century, but in order for their reputation to grow they are going to have to find some new ground to break.