No one tries to sound like Michael Caine in The Trip To Greece, and that’s a relief, frankly. Impressions of the English actor amounted to maybe the funniest and most popular bit in Michael Winterbottom’s The Trip, which cast comedians Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon as vain caricatures of themselves, performing rival shtick on a cross-country restaurant tour. The two then dusted off the dueling Caines to diminishing returns in The Trip To Italy, and completely milked the joke dry in The Trip To Spain. It’s blessedly withheld, at last retired, in this fourth installment in the duo’s improbably continuing series. Fans hoping for more of what they liked about the previous entries can rest easy, however: The Trip To Greece otherwise stays on course, offering yet another helping of buddy-comedy bickering over expensive entrées in gorgeous European locales. In other words, yes of course they do “Come, come, Mr. Bond.”
At least everyone seems self-aware about how much they’re repeating themselves yet again. “Originality is overrated,” Brydon quips early into the movie, somewhere around the exact same point in Italy and Spain where he was cracking wink-wink wise about sequels and trilogies, respectively. Like its predecessors, Greece is a feature-length cut of a British mini-series, and those origins are clear as ever in both the televisual imagery—spoofing the glossy look of celebrity travel porn—and in the adherence to a formula as rigid as a classic sitcom’s, with only the backdrop changing. In this case, it’s the cradle of Western civilization, with Coogan and Brydon retracing the footsteps of Odysseus, attempting to cram his 10-year voyage into just six days. This provides some fresh topics of argument (etymology, mythology), but not much change to the usual itinerary of wining, dining, and banter.
In so much as it’s possible to distinguish between these rather interchangeable movies, Greece is a minor improvement on Spain, in which even Coogan and Brydon seemed bored with “Coogan” and “Brydon.” Their passive-aggressive one-upmanship is a bit livelier this time around. There is, again, no Michael Caine, but they compensate for his absence by trying out Brando, De Niro, Ray Winstone, Dustin Hoffman, and Werner Herzog. Vocal manipulation remains the focus of the pair’s ongoing talent competition, one meal transforming into a showdown between Brydon’s famous “small man trapped in a box” routine and Coogan’s amusing imitation of an actor badly dubbed. There’s also a brief bit of cringe comedy where the two accompany one of the latter’s Greed costars, Kareem Alkabbani, to a refuge camp; it’s about as close as the outside world comes to penetrating the pair’s bubble of stars-on-holiday privilege—which is, of course, the whole point of the scene.
The two once more settle comfortably into their self-deprecating roles, Brydon again playing the tirelessly, tiresomely “on” jester to Coogan’s pompous crank. (The real-life source of his inflated self-regard is, in this case, his celebrated performance as Stan Laurel in 2018’s Stan & Ollie—though even that is a bit of an echo of the bragging he did about Philomena in the last sequel.) Coogan, in particular, seems to know this exaggerated, fictionalized version of himself inside and out. That the series’ sidelong stabs at midlife-crisis drama connect at all is probably thanks to the hangdog pathos he buries under layers of withering self-parody. But the meditations on aging still feel like just another stock component of the franchise house style, trotted out as dutifully as a post-credits teaser in a Marvel movie.
Still, this is undoubtedly the most melancholy Trip. Black-and-white dream sequences and a persistent tinkle of downbeat music portend trouble on the horizon, which the film pays off with the most literally mournful plot development in a series that treated potential death like a climactic punch line just one installment back. For as much as Greece pokes fun at Coogan’s insistence on being taken seriously as an actor, it also provides him with a late opportunity to seriously act, though the latest cinematic airing of Max Richter’s “On The Nature Of Daylight” does much of the emotional heavy-lifting for him. (Let’s just say that if The Trip is basically an ongoing sitcom, its fourth season ended with a Very Special Episode.) Sobering and loosely autobiographical ending aside, however, this series very much remains comfort food. And it might play even more to the appetites of its fans right now, when the possibility of a sunny vacation with a friend, traveling from town to town eating at restaurants, is as out of reach as the youth of its headliners.