Thursday, June 09, 2011

Coogan vs. Brydon: The Trip

One is Welsh (and don’t you forget it). The other is from The North, but much of the time they sound like their roots are strictly working class cockney. Prepare for a pitched battle of Michael Caine impressions. There will also be gourmet food. British comedians Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon play British comedians Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon, respectively, in Michael Winterbottom’s pseudo-fictional road-movie buddy-comedy The Trip (trailer here), which opens this Friday in New York at the IFC Center.

Coogan is one of the biggest stars in the UK. Just ask him, he’ll tell you. Divorced with a son he should see more of, Coogan’s personal life is pretty much a mess. His girlfriend has called a timeout and returned to America right before he is scheduled to take a culinary tour of the North of England on behalf of a major magazine. Stuck with a gig he only accepted because he thought she would enjoy it, Coogan invites along his old kind of chum Brydon in her place.

Hardly a big star, Brydon gets paid to make silly voices on the radio. However, the working class comic knows perfectly well there are worse ways to make a living. Happily married with a little girl, one hopes Brydon’s life is only thinly fictionalized. In contrast, we soon wish the moody Coogan portrayed in The Trip is largely an invented persona. They have one thing in common though. Both have very definite ideas on how Michael Caine should sound, which they demonstrate, repeatedly. Recognizing good material, Coogan and Brydon frequently return to the well and it is still funny each and every time.

Edited to feature length from the original six-part British mini-series, Trip is consistently droll, even when not plundering the Sir Michael comedy store. Stylistically very different, Coogan and Brydon play off each other quite well. Their mostly improvised bickering banter is always razor sharp, but never overly caustic. Coogan even offers a spot of credibly understated drama as his own rather miserable self. Yet, the film will not afford him the opportunity of blaming his parents, presenting them as warmly supportive and not at all embarrassing (at least by parental standards) when Coogan and Brydon pop in for a quick visit.

Throughout Trip, viewers also get a driving tour of the North, which looks quite picturesque through cinematographer Ben Smithard’s lens. Still, one suspects 111 minutes of the Lakeland district might be just about right, unless you have reservations at some of the elite restaurants Coogan and Brydon visit. Witty without getting too cute or annoyingly self-referential, The Trip is surprisingly entertaining, definitely recommended when it opens tomorrow (6/10) on two screens at the IFC Center.