'The Trip'

"The Trip" is about 20 minutes too long, but the other 90 are among the funniest in recent memory.

Michael Winterbottom’s “The Trip” is about 20 minutes too long, but the other 90 are among the funniest in recent memory. Two-hander road movie is powered by the impressionistic skills of comedians Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon (reuniting after Winterbottom’s “Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story”), and it is — at the risk of putting a fish knife through its heart — a comedy for smart people. Already shown on BBC as a six-part series, “The Trip” is an odd duck, one that should find a roost on American cable and perhaps some specialty venues.

“The Trip” presumes that Coogan — who always seems to be playing himself — would be assigned by the Observer to go off on a food tour of northern England (the very idea of which would, at some point not so long ago, have been a joke in itself). What “The Trip” actually offers among its various charms is food photography and cooking footage that puts to shame most of the myriad kitchen shows on TV. The food, one presumes, must be equally superb. But no one ever mentions it.

Instead, Coogan and Brydon (who, Coogan makes clear, was his fourth or fifth choice as driving/dining companion) engage in a war of wits, words, declamations, recitations, character assassinations, sniping, potshots and impressions, mostly of older, English stars. Their dueling Michael Caines and Sean Connerys are laugh-out-loud funny; Brydon’s Al Pacino is dead-on and hilarious. At one point, Brydon does an evolution of Caine’s voice as he’s changed and aged from his “Alfie” days to “The Dark Knight,” and it’s uncanny.

Coogan may not be quite the vocal artist Brydon is, but he’s certainly the poignant character in what constitutes a subplot (even if there’s barely a plot). Coogan’s girlfriend has declined to come along as originally planned; hence the invitation to Brydon, the happy husband and cheerful father. Coogan, on the other hand, spends a lot of the time moping when he isn’t sleeping with the help at the various hotels they visit, or waxing neurotic.

Brydon has left his wife and baby to come along with Coogan, but Coogan (the character) doesn’t have much at all besides a disgruntled adolescent son he doesn’t see very much and a sterile apartment he was probably eager to flee for the Lake District. He’s also dissatisfied with his career, but this is the fictional Coogan we’ve seen before; any resemblance to real people here is probably coincidental.

And then there’s the food: Whether the establishments visited by our dynamic duo are real or not is unclear. But the dishes with which they are presented are culinary architecture, symphonies in foodstuffs, potage poetry. The two pay no attention to it, because they barely stop talking. Viewers will barely stop laughing.

Tech credits are adequate, although most of what is shot in rural England looks magnificent.

The Trip

U.K.

Production

A Revolution Films/Baby Cow/Arbie presentation. Produced by Andrew Eaton, Melissa Parmeter. Executive producers, Henry Normal, Simon Lupton. Directed by Michael Winterbottom.

Crew

Camera (color), Ben Smithard. Editors, Mags Arnold, Paul Monaghan; sound, Will Whale. Reviewed at the Toronto Film Festival (Special Presentations), Sept. 12, 2010. Running time: 109 MIN.

With

Steve Coogan, Rob Brydon.

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