By Ray Bennett
TORONTO – Michael Winterbottom’s listless foody travelogue “The Trip” is made up of highlights from a six-part BBC-TV series that has yet to air but if these are the best bits then no one will mind waiting.
The film follows British comic actors Steve Coogan and Rob Bryden, playing fictionalized versions of themselves, on a driving tour of restaurants in the north of England. Each day sees them arrive at a new village with hotel rooms to mock and restaurants in which they demonstrate an acute ignorance of all things culinary.
The project suffers badly from being largely improvised as the pair fall back on familiar impressions and old jokes. Lazy and indulgent, it smacks of being what the British call a “jolly”, that is a freebie with no obligation to turn in any work afterwards. Prospects for the film are as dim as for the TV show.
The set-up is that Coogan is supposedly writing a feature for The Observer newspaper but he knows nothing about food, asks no questions at the restaurants and takes no notes. Instead, he and Bryden launch into contests to see who can do the best impression of Michael Caine and several other actors.
Bryden, in fact, goes into impressions at the drop of a napkin, even when phoning home to his much-missed wife,as he jokingly seeks phone sex in the voice of Hugh Grant.
Being Welsh, Bryden always has the voices of Richard Burton, Anthony Hopkins and Michael Sheen on his tongue so that even Coogan at one point tells him that anyone over 40 who still does impressions should take a hard look in the mirror.
When he’s not anguishing over his career and distant girlfriend even while bonking local women, Coogan joins in the funny voice parade, and there are several minutes given to competing Woody Allen impressions using many of the comedian’s old gags, which is about it for laughs.
Michael Nyman’s sprightly score deserves better but it’s something to enjoy along with cinematographer Ben Smithard’s lovely images of the countryside in the Lake District and elsewhere even though the filmmakers elected to shoot in overcast wintertime.
Coogan’s father sums up the whole thing in a comment on the pair’s banter. “It must be exhausting keeping all this going on,” he says. Coogan replies, “Yes. Exhausting for everyone.” It’s true.
Venue: Toronto International Film Festival; Sales: Revolution Films; Production companies: Revolution Films, Baby Cow Productions, Arbie Productions; Cast: Steve Coogan, Rob Bryden; Director: Michael Winterbottom; Producers: Andrew Eaton, Melissa Parmenter; Executive producers: Henry Normal, Simon Lupton; Director of photography: Ben SmithardMusic: Michael Nyman; Editors: Mags Arnold, Paul Monaghan; No rating, running time 109 minutes.
This review appears in The Hollywood Reporter