Edited down from a three-hour BBC miniseries, the road movie The Trip stars British comedians Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon as “themselves,” as they eat their way across north England on a restaurant tour and argue about which of them is more brilliant. Coogan and Brydon are funny men who were hilarious together in Tristram Shanty: A Cock And Bull Story, directed by Michael Winterbottom, who also helmed The Trip. They’re frequently funny in The Trip as well, as they do dueling impressions of Michael Caine and Bond villains, or compare their respective careers—Coogan’s has stalled a bit, while Brydon’s is trucking along nicely. But somewhere in the process of cutting six half-hour TV episodes down to feature-film length, Winterbottom seems to have lost some sense of what The Trip really is. Is it enough just to record scattered moments of inspired Coogan/Brydon riffing, or mightn’t The Trip have had a little more… purpose?
Granted, the dynamic between Coogan and Brydon goes a long way, as the hangdog, pompous Coogan suffers through Brydon’s boundless optimism. But after a while, Brydon’s willingness to do impressions at the drop of the hat becomes even more irritating than it’s meant to be, and it doesn’t help that Winterbottom keeps cutting away from conversations just when they’re starting to deepen, or that his usually keen visual sense is reduced to merely functional. The story—such as it is—quickly falls into a rut, too. There could’ve been more here about the food these two not-quite-friends ate and the places they visited, and less fictionalized pathos involving Coogan’s wayward son and his increasingly distant American girlfriend. Even the jokes about Coogan’s up-and-down career are staring to feel old, given that they were a running gag in Tristram Shandy as well.
Again, it’s always fun to spend time with these guys, and as their journey comes to an end, the movie even earns a few moments of poignancy by comparing what Coogan and Brydon have to come home to. Make no mistake: The Trip is a fine, funny movie. But there’s no reason why it couldn’t have been even finer and funnier.