*** (out of four)
While Rick Steves possesses an extensive amount of useful information, he may have some competition if Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon ever start compiling travel guides. As they did in the 2011 film “The Trip,” the comedian friends, playing versions of themselves, make considerably entertaining travel companions throughout “The Trip to Italy,” another mix of middle-aged sadness and universally appealing celebrity impressions.
Coogan can’t believe the Observer wants Brydon to write more restaurant reviews, since the two know nothing about food. (They also note, just like “22 Jump Street,” how rarely a sequel lives up to the original.) Driving around the titular country, the guys spend a high percentage of their time as other people—at least as far as their voices are concerned. “The Trip to Italy” has another delightful war of Michael Caine impressions, as well as Coogan winning the battle to impersonate De Niro and Brydon frequently returning to his Pacino. Woody Allen, Humphrey Bogart and Dustin Hoffman also appear within Brydon, who does a hilarious take on Tom Hardy’s Bane, whom Coogan says is in competition with Christian Bale’s Batman for the least intelligible character in “The Dark Knight Rises.”
When they’re talking as themselves, Coogan (who is English) and Brydon (who is Welsh) again express a sense of lingering melancholy about growing older. They listen to Alanis Morissette’s “Jagged Little Pill” because it reminds them of younger days and note how young women look straight through them, as if they’re uncles. They discuss classic movies and consider their place in the world and entertainment industry.
Much of this subject matter relies on events discussed but hardly shown. So the effort by writer-director Michael Winterbottom to take “The Trip to Italy” (whose concept originated as a British TV miniseries) to a deeper place of loneliness and uncertainty doesn’t connect without more action in these “characters’” lives. The film seems only a small piece of a larger story. Like all travel, I guess.
This doesn’t at all take away from an excursion that actually serves a purpose (unlike Adam Sandler’s vacation movies) or how snort-inducingly funny the movie can be. “Where do you stand on Michael Buble?” Brydon asks. Responds Coogan: “His windpipe?”
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