Back in 2011, writer/director Michael Winterbottom and stars Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon saw success from editing down their BBC miniseries The Trip, and releasing it internationally as a feature film. The movie basically consisted of Coogan and Brydon playing exaggerated versions of themselves while traveling around the North of England and eating at fancy restaurants, under the pretense that they were taking the trip in order to write it up for a magazine. Their relationship had a competitive streak, especially surrounding who did better celebrity impressions, and Coogan’s character was dealing with some pretty serious insecurity issues regarding his stagnating career and advancing age. That was about it. The movie was pleasant enough—it included a couple moments of comedic brilliance and a couple somber moments that hinted at deeper depths—but mostly it was just a watchable diversion. The Trip to Italy is them doing the same thing, but in Italy.
Seeing as Coogan and Brydon are just naturally funny together, and are both fairly strong actors to boot, The Trip to Italy manages to hover around that “watchable diversion” area that the first film fell into. It makes a couple of well-meaning decisions that keep it from being quite as strong as the original though. For starters, this time around Coogan is the character who has gotten to a more content place in his life, and Brydon is the one who’s less than thrilled with his situation and is acting out. While it’s nice that Winterbottom decided to change the dynamic up, his efforts don’t quite pan out, because Brydon is at his best when he’s playing the oblivious simpleton, and Coogan is the one whose persona naturally lends itself to angst and hidden darkness. The duo’s relationship isn’t nearly as contentious this time around either, which makes sense, because ignoring the bonding they did in the first movie in order to create drama would have felt cheap, but it robs this movie of a lot of the fun tension that the first one had nonetheless. Somehow it just doesn’t feel right to see Coogan smiling and laughing at Brydon’s motor-mouthed antics rather than being embarrassed by them.
More than anything though, The Trip to Italy is a step worse than its predecessor because it lacks that one comedy bit that’s just so impossibly hilarious that it sticks with you for months, which is what the dueling Michael Caine impressions provided the first film. They go back to the Caine well again here, and even update the bit a little in order to also make fun of the other ridiculous voices that were featured in The Dark Knight Rises, but like most comedy bits, it’s just not as funny when you hear it for a second time. There are a couple new jags the guys get on that are worth your time, and if you liked the first movie it’s likely that you’re going to enjoy this one as well, just probably not as much as the first. Which, I guess, still puts it a step above most other comedy sequels, which generally turn out being frustratingly awful. Hurray for mediocre!