It’s hard to know exactly how to categorize “The Trip” movies. Since 2010 Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon have co-starred in a series of British television travel shows, later cut down to feature length movies for North America.
The first saw the dynamic duo do a restaurant tour of northern England, then came “The trip to Italy” where they followed in the footsteps of early 19th century English poets on the Grand Tour. This time around trade plates of pasta for pintxos and paella in “The trip to Spain.”
The films are semi-fictional ad libbed culinary road trip adventures that have become increasingly melancholy as the odometer clocks each passing mile. They aren’t documentaries nor are they Food Network style travel shows. They are funny, although the laughs are fewer and further a part in the new, but they also contain moments of profound despondency. Sometimes they seem to be little more than a showcase for Coogan and Brydon’s prodigious gifts of celebrity mimicry, other times they are pathos dipped examinations of aging.
The third course on their culinary trip sees these two—imagine an intellectual version of The Two Ronnies—sample the best of Spain’s New Traditional restaurants, take in the sights but they spend most of their time not appreciating the beautiful coastal scenery but hilariously poking fun at a who’s who of Hollywood, including Al Pacino, Sean Connery and Woody Allen.
Wedged between the jokes and Michael Caine impressions is Coogan’s dissatisfaction, both personal and professional. Contrasted with Brydon’s happy family life and career, Coogan’s fear of becoming last week’s news as he enters his fifties gives the film an edge the others haven’t had. That means “The Trip to Spain” isn’t nearly all-out funny as the others, but it does have more substance. The others weren’t exactly empty calories but this one feels weightier.
“The Trip to Spain” features much of the stuff fans expect—Brydon’s “small man in a box” voice makes an appearance and Coogan’s way with words gives us culinary descriptions like, “life affirming butter”—but director Michael Winterbottom is clearly in a Cervantes state of mind as he sets his Don Quixote and Sancho Panza off on a new Spanish adventure.