If, like me, you loved The Trip (2010), in which director Michael Winterbottom followed Rob Brydon and Steve Coogan, playing themselves, on a restaurant-hopping tour of England, you can rest easy knowing that this re-run of the format has arrived as a welcome relief from the bogus heroism of Cruise and the vile ‘humour’ of MacFarlane.
With Winterbottom again at the helm, the boys are in sunny Italy, living la dolce vita – but are they? In so many ways, this outing is identical to its predecessor, but the tone is darker, more pensive.
Though frequently hilarious, always companionable and at times derisively, almost perversely up-beat, the journey is stalked by death – or, if that is wandering too far into hyperbole, let’s say it is unable to escape the shivering self-awareness that engulfs the stars as they are made to think of their own mortality.
The obvious jokes are done with in the first few scenes – both actors concede that sequels are never as good the originals but they’ll make one anyway, each man does his Michael Caine impersonation, and the camaraderie of two blokes in a car driving through the countryside sets us firmly on the right footing.
But something goes awry in the happy campers’ mood. Coogan especially is more withdrawn, less inclined to be compulsorily cheery for the camera.
Brydon soldiers on, delivering the bulk of the dialogue and unleashing his vast repertoire of brilliant impressions (Connery, Pacino, Hugh Grant) as they pass through the most gorgeous countryside and have mouth-watering meals presented to them.
The high-gloss superficiality is intoxicating, as is intended, but the circumstances of their real lives – work and family – are getting closer to the surface all the time. Out of the blue, Brydon crosses a line that is discomfiting for its shocking truthfulness and, at Pompeii, Coogan’s soul is touched when he confronts the calcified victims of Vesuvius’s temper.
It’s an incredibly moving scene, and he takes succour in Byron: ‘Sorrow is knowledge, those that know the most must mourn the deepest’.
~ John Campbell