Michael Winterbottom's The Trip Is an Improvised Faux-Reality Road Film

Cobbled together from a six-part BBC2 miniseries telecast last fall, The Trip is a talkative faux-reality road film largely improvised by funnymen Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon, playing versions of themselves, under the direction of Michael Winterbottom. The film opens at Miami Beach Cinematheque this weekend.

The riff seems to have spun out from Winterbottom's 2005 adaptation of Tristram Shandy (which featured Coogan as Tristram, as well as "Steve Coogan," and Brydon appearing both as himself and Uncle Toby), but the narrative is considerably more straightforward.

When his American girlfriend cancels, Coogan--who has supposedly been

hired by the Observer as a celebrity food critic--invites frenemy Brydon

to accompany him on a week-long eating tour of Yorkshire and Lake

District restaurants.

The excursion gets off to a humorous start when, due to a home-office

snafu, it seems the fellows will have to share the bed at their first

port of call. The verbal jousts are droll and the countryside is

splendid, although the food--an endless succession of fussy little

presentations--may be an acquired taste. "Duck-fat lolly," Coogan says

thoughtfully, sucking on some sort of caramelized dessert.

Although The Trip is a two-hander, the guys' compulsive vocal

impressions allow for the incorporation of other movies and a whole raft

of actors--most memorably Michael Caine, several times the subject of

their competing impersonations. Brydon calls his buddy "the king of

understatement," but it's Coogan who has the more comic persona.

Competitive, vain, and anxious, he complains of losing movie roles to

Michael Sheen and dreams that Ben Stiller himself is summoning him to

Hollywood. "I'd rather be me than you," Coogan tells the good-natured

Brydon, a loyal foil who even sets up ungenerous Coogan to deliver his

imagined funeral eulogy.

Verbal as it is, The Trip could almost work as a radio show. Set pieces

include an invented Shakespearean dialogue delivered in plummy Goon Show

voices, a Wimbledon-worthy volley of Woody Allen one-liners, and, most

touchingly, a lusty rendition of ABBA's classic breakup song "The Winner

Takes It All."

Visits to cottages that once sheltered Wordsworth and Coleridge inspire

the lads to declaim poetry. Adding to the romantic aspect, Coogan often

strides the moors in search of a cell-phone signal to call his

girlfriend, while the domesticated Brydon, who seemingly has a more

reliable network, engages in mild phone sex with his wife, using the

voice of Hugh Grant.

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