Sundance Review: 'The Trip to Italy'

Essentially the highbrow equivalent of “Grown Ups,” 2011’s “The Trip” followed a couple of comedians around on a paid vacation as they joked with one another, ate lavish meals and generally shirked any conventional notion of a plot. Thankfully, Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon’s knowing variations on their own public personas -- combined with a recurring knack for dead-on impersonations of other celebrities and an ample amount of food porn -- made the endeavor worthwhile, and so they and director Michael Winterbottom have returned with the self-evident sequel, “The Trip to Italy.”

In the three years since we last saw Coogan (Coogan) and Brydon (Brydon), the former has reversed his decision to stay in England for his family’s sake and went to shoot a TV show in Hollywood, one which now finds itself on hiatus. Having been enlisted by The Observer to chronicle a tour of high-end restaurants and historical sights along the Italian peninsula, Rob extends the invitation to the currently unoccupied Steve, and off they go in a Mini Cooper (a nod, naturally, to Michael Caine’s “The Italian Job”).

Coogan and Brydon’s roles are effectively reversed this time out -- it seems that the more successful Brydon has also taken up the mantle of philanderer, while Coogan finds himself uncharacteristically sober -- but their mutually cagey dynamic is very much intact and the same loose improvisational stylings ensue, akin to not only Winterbottom’s previous film but their earlier pairing in “Tristram Shandy: A Cock & Bull Story.” The director essentially stays out of their way, making sure to dole out occasional moments of introspection as he once again whittles three hours of BBC content down to an agreeably shaggy two-hour feature film.

Sure enough, the majority of the material consists of Rob and Steve affably exchanging insults and impersonations, with plenty of old favorites making almost too eager a comeback. The duo dusts off their rival Caine and Connery voices while adding Bane and Batman to the repertoire, taking Michael Buble to task (“Where do you stand on [the singer]?” “His windpipe?”), and mining both Pompeii’s legendary aftermath and the word “kumquat” for an appropriately juvenile amount of laughs. The dishes look delicious in between the banter, the Tuscan backdrops are every bit their equal as eye candy, and the soundtrack is littered almost exclusively with Alanis Morissette tracks (for good reason).

However, it’s tough not to feel a bit of “been there, done that” with the men’s shared middle-aged angst and more familiar impressions. Don’t get me wrong: “The Trip to Italy” is plenty enjoyable for fans of the first one and these two, but by the end, it also has the consistency of reheated comfort food.

SCORE: 7.9