“It’s brilliant,” says Steve Coogan of Rob Brydon’s Small Man Trapped in a Box vocal acrobatics. “It is also the apotheosis of your career.”
Some might say the same of the third entry in The Trip series, the latest collaboration between filmmaker Michael Winterbottom and comedians Coogan and Brydon. While it is still genuinely funny and heartfelt, but it is also ground that has been well covered before.
The central appeal of the series of films, beginning with the The Trip (2010) and followed by The Trip to Italy (2014), is watching these friends try to outdo each other in crafting exaggerated versions of themselves. Little set-up is needed before the duo are wining and dining their way across Spain. Coogan still laments the lack of success he’s had since Philomena, while Brydon relishes time away from his screaming newborn. So it’s another few hours of food porn, picture postcard views of Spain, and infinite impersonations of Mick Jagger, David Bowie, Woody Allen, and much…Moore.
Like the previous outings, THE TRIP TO SPAIN is a cut-down version of a six-part television series, and naturally some of the nuance and subplots are lost in translation. Brydon’s affair in The Trip to Italy, for example, isn’t even mentioned in the film version. The arrested development of Coogan’s career, and smaller pieces about his son and girlfriend, are a long way from generating the pathos of the original food trip. In more ways than one, this cinematic cut does come across as a greatest hits package.
The bigger issue is that the third time out doesn’t have enough fuel in the tank for a complete journey. The literary allusions to both Laurie Lee’s As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning, and the more obvious one of Cervantes’ Don Quixote, have only tangential connections to their wanderings. Even though the television version is longer by a good 50 minutes or so, at least that comes closer to delivering on the grand European tradition of plots slowly unfolding from the front seat of a car.
There’s no doubting that watching Brydon continually bursting Coogan’s bubble of pomposity is filled with an inherent joy. Yet the ambiguity of the ending suggests that the series has either petered out, or will be willing to take a few risks in the next installment. Nevertheless, the prospect of the rumoured The Trip to Ireland will still be a welcome voyage when it arrives, especially given that it will get them back to their roots of being Brits adrift in their own environment.