In 2011, Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon starred in The Trip, Michael Winterbottom's largely improvised road movie about two comedians (named Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon) who accept a magazine assignment to travel around northern England's Lake District and sample the region's finer restaurants. There was little to the movie besides the framework of two old friends driving through postcard locales, eating, and talking. But as in My Dinner With Andre or the opening moments of Reservoir Dogs, their conversations about nothing were really about everything. The larkish pleasure of the film was the carbonated chemistry between the two professional cutups: Coogan, the acerbic, hilariously self-centered Alan Partridge star, and Brydon, a whip-smart Welsh mimic who fires off impressions of Michael Caine and Hugh Grant like a parrot manning a howitzer. Now Winterbottom and his two merry midlife muses have recycled the recipe and returned with seconds this time sampling trattorias of Italy. And while this sequel lacks the novelty of the first course, it's just as soulful and silly.
In a rented Mini Cooper convertible, the two hopscotch from Rome to the Amalfi Coast to Capri, twirling endless courses of pasta while tracing the footsteps of the poets Byron and Shelley. That may sound a tad highbrow, but it doesn't take long for Coogan and Brydon to bust out their dueling impersonations of Al Pacino and the various James Bonds, or wax philosophical about Alanis Morissette's Jagged Little Pill. Bubbling beneath all of the riffing are the duo's unspoken anxieties about their careers (Coogan is always quick to passive-aggressively point out that he's a bigger star than his pal riding shotgun), their complicated marriages (their lack of fidelity masking an unwillingness to grow up), and aging (Brydon's one-sided conversation with a plaster-cast Pompeii mummy is one of the film's most touching moments). At its heart, The Trip to Italy is more than just a travelogue about food. It's about friendship and the appetite for experience we all share. (Also on VOD starting 8/21) A-