Saturday, August 27, 2011

The Trip (Wanous)

British film import is wit writ large
L'Attitudes Correspondent

"The Trip", 107 minutes, Unrated, opens Friday, Aug. 26, Tropic Cinema, Key West

Two British guys go on a road trip through a pretty but rainy countryside, eat at several restaurants, talk and talk some more, do impressions of celebrities, look for cell phone signals and try to score with various hotel staffers. Sound like fun? Well, surprisingly, it actually is.

The two Brits are Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon, both of whom starred in director Michael Winterbottom's 2005's "Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story."

Coogan is probably most recognizable in the U.S. from his role as Octavius in the two "Night At The Museum" films. "The Trip" reunites the trio in a very funny movie about, well, basically about nothing. While the movie only lightly touches on the purpose of the trip, the director wisely concentrates on the repartee between the two main characters. The end result is an enjoyable film.

"The Trip" started as a TV series in the UK and Winterbottom has woven some of those episodes into a 107-minute film. The premise is that Coogan is hired by a London newspaper to write about fine restaurants in a rural area of England. He doesn't want to make the trip alone but can't find anyone to tag along with him. After his girlfriend and several others turn him down, he works his way to the bottom of his contact list and asks Brydon, who agrees to go. The film then follows the two as they travel the back roads of England to review different restaurants in the Lake District and Yorkshire Dales.

With no screenwriters credited, "The Trip" is more documentary than movie and seems almost entirely ad-libbed. If that's truly the case, it's a witty exercise in improvisation, sly humor and spot-on impressions of famous people, including Michael Caine, Sean Connery, Woody Allen, Liam Neeson and others.

Both men are gifted mimics and get into friendly but semi-serious competitions to see who can do the best impression. The well-chosen tag line for the movie is "Eat, drink and try not to kill each other", a good indication of where the relationship is headed. Their battling Michael Caine imitations are hilarious and while Coogan wants to believe that his is the better of the two, you can tell that he is not quite sure.

Director Winterbottom manages to insert a tone of melancholy and some reflections on mid-life anxiety that give a nice balance to the comedic tone of the film. He also offers a look at the competitiveness of male friendships that will ring true to the men in the theater.

I do recommend the movie but with a couple of cautions. While the actors are funny, watching two mimics do impressions for almost two hours might be a bit of a stretch. I can see where it would work as a 30-minute TV series but it might seem too repetitive for some. And the subplot about Coogan trying to decide whether or not to take a starring role in an American TV series is distracting and doesn't really add to the film.

But if you enjoyed "Seinfeld", the TV show about nothing, then "The Trip", a film about nothing, may be just your cup of tea. One last caveat: make your dinner reservations before seeing the movie. Most of the food featured in "The Trip" looks delicious and you may leave the theater desperately seeking the nearest restaurant.

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