If you’ve never tagged along on the culinary adventures of comic actors Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon, eating and joking their way through England and Italy in the first two The Trip movies, it may take a few scenes to get in the groove with this third installment, The Trip to Spain. But if you’ve already acquired a taste for the deadpan improv style and freewheeling mimicry of these guys on the road, make sure your passport is in order, and get ready to laugh.
Part foodie porn, part travelogue to gorgeous locales, the series revolves around two guys named “Steve Coogan” and “Rob Brydon,” lightly fictionalized versions of the real-life actors. As they drive around, eating at fancy restaurants, ostensibly writing a Sunday piece for The Observer, they do occasionally discuss the food placed before them. But mostly, they talk about life in all its complications, which, increasingly, as the series progresses, turns to issues of aging, family, relationships, and showbiz.
But there’s nothing ponderous about the talk in these movies. Even serious subjects are handled with fizzy drollery as these two accomplished comedians ping ideas off each other, working themselves (and the audience) up to crescendos of extreme hilarity. The show began as a six-part BBC TV series that was condensed to feature-film length by director Michael Winterbottom in 2011. Winterbottom has also helmed the two subsequent television series, first to Italy (2014) and now to Spain, from which the films are compiled; each movie is like a highlight reel of the TV productions.
Fact and fiction form an uneasy relationship in these films. The private lives of onscreen Steve and Rob are reinvented by director Winterbottom, with actors playing the parts of the wives, girlfriends, and agents they interact with—usually via phone—on their travels. A darker introspection threads through the comedy as Steve tries to solidify his fame in the U.S. (many pointed asides are made to the movie Philomena, for which the real-life Coogan was Oscar-nominated as co-writer and producer), while Rob’s contentment with his popularity on British TV irritates Steve.
But story takes a back seat to the fun of turning these guys loose in a rental car over miles of glorious Spanish scenery as they read guidebooks, re-imagine history, attempt the Spanish language, and visit tourist destinations—from the majestic Alhambra to a roadside dinosaur park. Inspired by their surroundings, they reference vintage Monty Python routines (“Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition!”), and compare themselves to Don Quixote and Sancho Panza: “two middle-aged men looking for adventure.”
Since both actors are gifted impersonators, they take along an entire supporting cast of other Brit celebrities. Discussion of the Spanish Moors inevitably leads to Rob’s imitation of Roger Moore as James Bond (with a little Sean Connery thrown in.) Coogan does an amazing Mick Jagger, complete with hand-clapping gestures, and Rob counters with David Bowie. But they also indulge in less-often-mimicked celebs like John Hurt (Coogan’s take is brilliant), Ian McKellan, and Anthony Hopkins playing Picasso.
Other bits of inspired silliness include an a cappella duet of the bouncy instrumental “Tijuana Taxi” while driving through the mountains. Discussing King Ferdinand, who expelled the Moors in the 15th Century, Coogan calls him the “Catholitic Converter.” Waxing poetic over the vagaries of age, Coogan declares, “Time flies like a spear—but fruit flies like a banana.”
And, oh yes, now and then they do actually pay attention to the food—from chorizo to mussels in carrot juice. (Spearing one pink bivalve on his fork, Rob says, “The good news is, it’s benign.”) A plate of scallops prompts a funny confrontation between James Bond and a silky villain over who can dupe the other into eating the first one.
The effect of the comedy is cumulative: bits build to past their expiration date, then either fizzle out or soar into irresistible heights of absurdity. With such sharp, witty travel companions, you might as well enjoy the ride.
THE TRIP TO SPAIN
*** (out of four)
With Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon. Directed by Michael Winterbottom. An IFC Films release. Not rated. 108 minutes.