In 2010, The Trip—a BBC series condensed to a feature film—followed Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon, playing “Steve Coogan” and “Rob Brydon,” through Northern England as they ate well and tackled existential sniping and dueling Michael Caine impersonations, often at the same time. It could have been slight or dull; it was delightfully neither. They’ve reunited for The Trip to Italy, but while there’s plenty of lip service paid to the obligatory sequel, luckily none of it applies. If anything, The Trip to Italy edges out its predecessor in depth and scope.
While there’s still plenty of meandering, Italy (alongside director Michale Winterbottom) gives momentum to their journey, and the film pivots neatly on differences in Steve and Rob since we saw them last. This year’s Steve is both more bitter and more gently resigned; it’s Rob who has to grapple with big decisions and looming crossroads between courses of pasta. Luckily, they still love having it out. Their one-upsmanship can become uncomfortable, especially when their barbs become downright poisoned before an audience—their Bond face-off is as sly as the “deaf people” riff is unnecessary—but more often, they play expertly off each other in several directions at once. Whether debating the virtues of old-school Alanis or arguing around mortality while standing over ashen bodies in Pompeii, their rapport manages to be equally hilarious and bleak.
That bleakness, creeping over the film like an oncoming twilight, becomes a character of its own. Whether visiting cemeteries or discussing death on the beach, mortality is front and center. Even their film references circle back to things lonely and left behind. This newfound melancholy dulls their competitions, beautifully offsets their laughs and makes The Trip to Italy a journey well worth taking.