Cobbled together from a six-part BBC2 miniseries telecast last fall, The Trip is a talkative faux-reality road film largely improvised by funnymen Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon, playing versions of themselves, under the direction of Michael Winterbottom.
When his American girlfriend cancels, Coogan — who has supposedly been hired by the Observer newspaper as a celebrity food critic — invites frenemy Brydon to accompany him on a weeklong eating tour of Yorkshire and Lake District restaurants. The verbal jousts are droll and the countryside is splendid, although the food — an endless succession of fussy little presentations — may be an acquired taste. “Duck-fat lolly,” Coogan says thoughtfully, sucking on some sort of caramelized dessert.
Brydon calls his buddy “the king of understatement,” but it's Coogan who has the more comic persona. Competitive, vain and anxious, he complains of losing movie roles to Michael Sheen and dreams that Ben Stiller himself is summoning him to Hollywood.
Verbal as it is, The Trip could almost work as a radio show. Set pieces include a Wimbledon-worthy volley of Woody Allen one-liners and, most touchingly, a lusty rendition of ABBA's classic breakup song “The Winner Takes It All.” Visits to cottages that once sheltered Wordsworth and Coleridge inspire the lads to declaim poetry. Adding to the romantic aspect, Coogan often strides the moors in search of a cellphone signal to call his girlfriend, while the domesticated Brydon engages in mild phone sex with his wife, using the voice of Hugh Grant. —J. Hoberman (Landmark, Playhouse, Sunset 5, Town Center)