July 05, 2011

MOVIES: The Trip (Michael Winterbottom, 2010/US 2011)

The Trip is slightly under two hours long, and it's been edited down from a six-hour British TV series for the American movie market. It stars actor/comedians Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon as "themselves," and finds them taking a week-long road trip to visit the finest restaurants of rural northern England. Most scenes are set either in the car or at a dinner table, and much of the dialogue is improvised. You could think of it as something like a British My Dinner With Andre, if Andre Gregory and Wallace Shawn had been neurotic, career-obsessed, vaguely depressed bores incapable of going more than five minutes without doing another bad impression.

And, oh my friends, there are a lot of bad impressions in this movie. Steve and Rob think nothing of spending ten minutes or so arguing over whose Michael Caine is better, or trading random Woody Allen punchlines. Rob is so obsessed with impressions that he can't even get through phone sex with his wife without slipping into Hugh Grant. (How do we know it's Hugh Grant? Because Rob is thoughtful enough to tell us so; we'd never have guessed it otherwise.)

There is an occasional flash of wit and cleverness, most notably, there's a marvelous riff on period war dramas and their obligatory inspiring speeches of period war dramas ("And now, to bed, for tomorrow we rise at dawn!") And when the two visit the homes of great poets, we occasionally get a lovely reading of poetry (marred somewhat, of course, by Rob's insistsence on reading it in the voice of Ian McKellen).

But there aren't enough of those moments to make up for the generally aimless meandering of the thing. There's a reason that movie scripts are written out in advance; very few people are interesting or funny enough on their own to hold anyone's attention for two hours. Sadly, Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon are no exception.

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