Like its predecessor, the film is directed by Michael Winterbottom and condensed from a BBC miniseries in which actor-comedians Coogan and Brydon, improvising their dialogue, play distorted versions of themselves in fictional scenarios. Our chow voyagers, having last explored northern England, are now driving a Mini and visiting restaurants in places like Rome, Liguria and Capri for a newspaper assignment.
The dynamics between the two have somewhat flipped: Rob, previously a family man overshadowed, fame-wise, by the image-conscious Steve, is now enjoying a career upswing along with the related indulgences. Steve, his TV project stagnating, has become gloomier and less hedonistic.
The travelers couple their dining jaunt with a literary tour focusing on Romantic poets Byron and Shelley. (Rob assumes the voice of Richard Burton when reciting the verse.)
Personal minidramas pepper the journey. Rob, who has a wife and daughter in England, becomes involved with a young deckhand (Rosie Fellner). Steve tries to reconnect with his teenage son (Timothy Leach).
That’s about all the plot there is, and Winterbottom’s loose pacing further undermines dramatic thrust. Some of the Rob-Steve interactions, like a debate over how Alanis Morissette pronounces her name, go on too long. The dining scenes could use even a jot of discussion of the culinary artistry involved.
Counterbalancing these shortcomings, however, is the comic chemistry of Coogan and Brydon. Numerous sterling moments result from their brainy, breezy pairing.
The men’s competitive relationship remains a highlight. When Rob is up for a role in a Michael Mann film, Steve can’t quite hide his envy as he holds the camera and films Rob’s audition. When Steve notes his own appearance in a movie with Tom Cruise, “Tropic Thunder,” Rob retorts that Steve’s character “died in the first 10 minutes.”
Additional highlights include puns (Steve: “She has a lovely gait.” Rob: “Probably padlocked”), a Brydon “small man in a box” routine involving a glass-encased lava-coated Pompeii mummy, and, naturally, the impressions.
Most memorable are Steve’s impersonation of Robert De Niro in Kenneth Branagh’s “Frankenstein,” Rob’s riff on Tom Hardy’s unintelligible Bane in “The Dark Knight Rises,” a bit on the various James Bond actors and, of course, Michael Caine.
While shelving the grimness he’s shown in “The Road to Guantanamo” and his Thomas Hardy adaptations, Winterbottom occasionally flirts with seriousness in this lighthearted turn. The protagonists’ reflections on death and midlife discontent provide welcome gravity. Visual pleasures include shots of Italian vistas and close-ups of pasta dishes.
The Trip to Italy
Starring Steve Coogan, Rob Brydon, Rosie Fellner, Timothy Leach
Directed by Michael Winterbottom
Running time 1 hour, 48 minutes