LIKE its 2010 predecessor The Trip, Michael Winterbottom's followup The Trip to Italy qualifies as a little vacation unto itself. It features gorgeous foreign locales, even more gorgeous food and sparkling conversation.
The only reservation you may have to make is for a babysitter.
Also, like its predecessor, the movie is an edited version of a larger miniseries. Cinematically speaking, it's a trimmed-down package tour, but no less worth the experience.
The premise is essentially identical. Comedian-actor-impersonator Rob Brydon is invited to tour Italy and write about the cuisine and the culture for a London newspaper. He invites his actor friend Steve Coogan along for the ride and Coogan, with his Hollywood-lensed TV series freshly cancelled, agrees.
Either on the road or at the dinner table, the two are a delight to watch because their onscreen friendship pings with a credible affection coupled with a surging undercurrent of competition and animosity, all improvised.
Early on, the two have a replay of their Michael Caine impersonation contest of the first film, this time encompassing Caine's Dark Knight Rises co-stars Christian Bale and Tom Hardy, both, in the view of Coogan and Brydon, equally difficult to comprehend. Later, the two will rip on Anthony Hopkins' performance of Capt. Bligh in the 1984 movie The Bounty -- a bit I found uproariously funny, although I'm hard-pressed to explain precisely why.
The two rip on each other too, often unintentionally. When Brydon shares the news that he's up for a lead in a Michael Mann movie, Coogan can't disguise his professional jealousy. It's not real, of course, but it sure feels real.
In the interests of creating a mirror dynamic to the first film, Winterbottom this time gives Brydon the chance to indulge in a little extra-marital affair with the British expat (Rosie Fellner) who captains a touring yacht, while his frantic wife stays home with their high-maintenance three-year-old daughter.
Meanwhile, Coogan, haunted by following in the hedonistic footsteps of Lord Byron and Percy Shelley on this Italian jaunt, moves towards a warm reconciliation with his sullen teenage son (Timothy Leach).
In the grand sweep of the two trip movies, Brydon's misbehaviour feels like a wrong note, a fly, if you will, in the lobster risotto.
Even so, The Trip to Italy should be the winning choice if you have to see a movie wherein actors play fictionalized versions of themselves in the cineplex this weekend.
If this film has snob appeal compared to the slob appeal of SwearNet, do yourself a favour. Go with the snobs.