August 29, 2014

Movie Review: 'The Trip to Italy'

By Carl Kozlowski *
It’s easy to forget that America isn’t the only country that produces film stars, and that the people we consider our top comedic or dramatic actors might be surpassed by completely different performers in other nations. A perfect case in point is Steve Coogan, a hugely popular comic actor and writer in England who had only nibbles of cult-level success in the US until he co-wrote and starred with Judi Dench in “Philomena” last year and that film both became a hit and earned him a Best Screenplay Oscar nomination.
Of course, that movie stirred great controversy for its depiction of a pregnant single Irish woman who gave up her baby for adoption through Catholic nuns in the late 1950s. The movie portrayed the nuns involved harshly, when in fact their adoption services and the fact they provided a place to live for single mothers at a time when families routinely tossed them out of their homes were the only opportunity afforded to many of the women. The film also took several major liberties with the facts of its subject’s life.

Now Coogan’s back in American theaters with a most unlikely sequel, called “The Trip To Italy” – and thankfully it’s free of an anti-Catholic agenda and is fairly innocent for an R-rated movie, rated as such due to about 20 swear words and an implied sexual affair by a married male character who sleeps with another woman without her or his wife knowing about it. It’s not a follow-up to “Philomena,” but rather to the 2011 film “The Trip,” in which he and fellow British comedy star Rob Brydon played slightly exaggerated versions of themselves being sent on a several-day trip across Northern England to review the region’s finest restaurants for a magazine.
That movie only made about $2 million in the US and barely more than that overseas, but it was pieced together from a TV travel miniseries that aired to great ratings on the BBC. That British television monolith sent them packing for Italy last year to film a follow-up series in which the duo travel across Italy in search of great restaurants.
In both films, the men are mostly seen driving or eating in restaurants, and both the scenery and the food they consume are sumptuous to behold. Director Michael Winterbottom guided both films, employing an intriguing conceit in which he intersperses documentary-style footage of food preparation with the explosively funny conversations between the stars.

It’s a good thing that the conversations are so funny in these films, because they literally are the only thing happening besides eating. Coogan and Brydon are ingenious improvisers who are not only willing to take pointed comic shots at themselves and each other, but also engage in a seemingly unending string of verbal battles trying to outwit each other or top each other’s celebrity impersonations.
The funniest exchange comes in a showdown between the men over whether Christian Bale or Tom Hardy was the most difficult person to understand in “The Dark Knight Rises.” But Coogan and Brydon also lock horns over Brydon’s jealousy at Coogan’s greater American success, and Coogan’s envy of Brydon’s seemingly happy home life, which he endangers by having a secret fling with a female boat worker who helps them sail between a couple of destinations.

For example, Coogan cockily tells Bryson “I run on the beach with Owen Wilson,” to which Brydon replies, “Is he aware of you? And are you sure he’s not just running away from you?”

Even though the banter is absolutely hilarious, it does get to be a bit tiring toward the end of the nearly two-hour film. But Coogan and Brydon are also smart enough to know that the audience needs a little substance to go with all the frothy funniness, and the film slows down at wise points in the flow of events as well, for discussions of philosophy, mortality, the gulf that exists between one’s dreams and one’s reality that even exists for famous people the world assumes have everything their heart desires.

In the last weeks of summer there are a few films left to be released, but history reveals that most movies put out near Labor Day are hopelessly lame. “The Trip to Italy” won’t thrill you with explosions, nor will you be on the edge of your seat trying to solve a mystery with the characters.

But you will laugh along with two of the world’s quickest wits while enjoying locales that would normally cost way more than a $12 movie ticket to experience. By the time it’s over, you’ll be dying for a sumptuous Italian meal and likely wind up in a special conversation of your own. That should be enough reason to want to take this ride.

“The Trip to Italy” is playing in just several major cities in theaters, but is currently available through most cable systems on Video On Demand for home viewing. 
Carl Kozlowski has been a professional film critic and essayist for the past five years at Pasadena Weekly, in addition to the Christian movie site, the conservative pop culture site Breitbart.coms Big Hollywood, the Christian pop culture magazine Relevant and New City newspaper in Chicago. He also writes in-depth celebrity interviews for and The Progressive. He is owner of the podcasting site, which was named one of the Frontier Fifty in 2013 as one of the 50 best talk-radio outlets in the nation by and will be relaunching it in January 2014 after a five-month sabbatical. He lives in Los Angeles.

* Catholic News Agency columns are opinion and do not necessarily express the perspective of the agency.


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