“Steve” and “Rob,” as they’re known in both movies, are still mostly alter egos, but one thing that remains clear in all the meta-action and comedy is the real chemistry and affection going on. Michael Winterbottom returns as director, and he wisely lets Coogan and Brydon riff on one silly topic to the next without trying to upstage them visually. They become part of the rolling scenery, and their experience of the Italian landscape is contrasted hilariously with their prickly Englishness. The moments when Steve and Rob are driving from one destination to the next really shine because they aren’t lost in larger shots of sweeping vistas. I’ll take the two of them, close-up, bickering in a car over the state of Alanis Morissette and volatile women any day.
There’s a role reversal to this sequel, too, where instead of Steve being the ambivalent commitment-phobe who has an affair, it’s happily married Rob who falls for someone else (Rosie Fellner) at a beautiful seaside resort. The switch-up adds a layer of depth to the story, as Rob shows signs of guilt on the phone with his wife, and Steve reaches out to his lonely son (Timothy Leach), who’s having problems abroad. It’s all surprisingly sentimental, blended with locales that inspired films like Roman Holiday and La Dolce Vita. Plus, let’s not forget the six-restaurant tour around Liguria, Tuscany, Rome, Amalfi and Capri, complete with accommodation at each stop.
As much as I’m a fan of these romantic settings and emotional moments, I’m so glad Coogan and Brydon didn’t abandon what they do best – their genius, dead-on impressions of other celebrities. Robert De Niro, The Dark Knight Rises’ Bale and Hardy, and several James Bonds all have “cameos,” and the classic Michael Caine that was a highlight of the first Trip comes roaring back.
The whole documentary feel rests somewhere between fantasy and reality, so that you’re watching actors playing themselves but in situations that aren’t based on their real lives. A dream sequence with Coogan and Brydon in The Godfather jumps the shark a little bit because it’s like a transplanted SNL sketch, (and you wouldn’t see someone’s dream in a documentary anyway) but it’s so funny and unexpected that it’s a reminder to stay open to where a genre-bending movie like this can take you – often right back at square one, to just two good friends on a mid-life road trip.
A Trip to Italy opens nation-wide on August 15.