MasterChugs Theater: ‘The Trip’

Road trips by their very nature tend to be part plan, part improvisation, part fun, part irritation. And so it goes in The Trip, starring British comic actor Steve Coogan and his frequent pranking partner, Rob Brydon.

They’re doing another riff on the “characters” Steve and Rob, who were responsible for most of the tongue-in-cheekiness of Tristram Shandy: A Cock & Bull Story. This latest bit of silliness reunites them with filmmaker Michael Winterbottom, who seems to have endless patience with their antics, having worked with them on 2005’s Tristram and 2002’s 24 Hour Party People. The Trip began as a six-episode faux documentary series on British TV in 2010. Now, it’s been nipped and tucked to about half of its original size and released as a film, which might sound improbable but surprisingly works. As this is near total improvisation, there is no writing credit, and that holds up remarkably well too.

Steve (Coogan) is a disgruntled actor who has been asked to review upscale restaurants for The Observer during an improvised drive through northern England’s Lake District and Yorkshire Dales. When his girlfriend cancels at the last minute, he reluctantly takes along his friend Rob (Brydon), who is happily married though not so happily employed.

Ever the actor – or, to be more precise, mimic – Rob regales Steve on the road with some of the funniest impersonations you’ve ever heard. Rob doesn’t just do Michael Caine, for example – he does Caine at differering stages in his career, from Alfie to The Dark Knight. He also does a mean Al Pacino, Sean Connery, Anthony Hopkins, Liam Neeson, and Woody Allen. And Steve nearly matches him shot for shot.

What’s especially funny is that many of these jags occur in tony restaurants where scrumptious, high-end dishes, which they barely notice, are lovingly placed before them. They’re not boors, exactly, just oblivious. They trade quips, insults, poems, and philosophies. They sing wistful snatches of ABBA and Kate Bush.

Between philosophical musings about the food they are sampling and the nature of life in general, the actors make hay, poking fun at each other’s egocentric soft spots. Coogan and Brydon are either quite brilliant at this or just serving up slight variations of their very witty selves. Either way, their travels and squabbles are great fun to watch, the countryside is bucolic, the food mouthwatering. You just wouldn’t want to go on a real road trip with them.