In 2010, director Michael Winterbottom turned a British TV series starring comic actors Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon into the feature film, “The Trip.” Coogan was hired by the UK newspaper The Observer to tour the most beautiful hotels and restaurants and write a piece on them. When his girlfriend cancels, he invites Brydon to join him and the two venture out – annoying each other and trying to out-do each other’s celebrity impressions.
That film was a hit, and a sequel, “A Trip to Italy” followed in 2014. It boasts one of the funniest scenes ever, the dueling Michael Caines.
Nothing in this third film, "The Trip to Spain," is quite that lethal, (their Mick Jagger and David Bowie impersonations come closest), although Coogan and Brydon are genius ad-libbers. Nevertheless, their banter, like travel, gets old fast. In the midst of their seemingly never-ending Moors/Roger Moore routine, I wondered, “When does witty banter become sophomoric annoyance?” Answer: “About three minutes ago.”
While neither of the actors is well known in the United states, Coogan received two Academy Award nominations for “Philomena,” and delights in mentioning it. The duo constantly bickers over who is more successful. “I’ll have my people call… you.”
These middle-aged men have multiple layers of insecurity – made exponentially worse by their chosen profession, in which they have to suffer the slings and arrows of agents dropping them, losing jobs to more well-known actors and even being replaced by “up and coming” writers. (Coogan is mystified by this: “Why would you want someone up and coming? You have me! I have come.”)
While the actors are ostensibly playing themselves, their (fictitious) personal lives are polar opposites. Brydon is married with two young children; Coogan has at least one ex-wife and a grown son he is planning to connect with after the assignment is over. “Steve” is having an affair with a married American actress. (In what may be my favorite line of dialogue in the film, he deadpans, “It’s not ideal.”)
There are mouth-watering shots of the exquisite food being so lovingly and expertly prepared, but when the dishes arrive at the table with great fanfare the two barely acknowledge them, obsessed as they are with their own ego-boosting one-upmanship.
Similarly, the scenery is also spectacular but the pair barely notices, focused instead on proving who knows more about the history of each site they visit. With their loud lunch discussions oblivious to other diners and guests, they could easily be the prototypical “ugly Americans”– only British.
The film also would have benefited from more judicious (read: just plain more) editing. Clocking in at almost two hours, this “Trip” starts to feel aimless and going nowhere fast and a surprise ending seems out of place.
Ultimately, although the scenery is stunning and Coogan and Brydon provide some entertaining banter, “The Trip to Spain” is same trip, different day.
"The Trip to Spain"
2.5 stars out of 4
In this third of the “Trip” films, British actor/comics Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon visit the Spanish coast in fabulous hotels and restaurants, trading barbs and doing impressions. 111 minutes. (Unrated)