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Review: The Trip to Spain’s banter can’t save its humdrum plot

Rob Brydon and Steve Coogan star in The Trip to Spain, a film that focuses on the two men dealing with differing states of existential crisis.

2.5 out of 4 stars

Title
The Trip to Spain
Directed by
Michael Winterbottom
Starring
Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon
Classification
14A
Country
USA
Language
English

In the wafer-thin, insufferable film Paris Can Wait, a horny Frenchman tells Diane Lane's character that "driving is the only way to see a country." That's not a nugget from Voltaire or Descartes – just a premise of smarmy Jacques and the filmmaker to trap us on a gluttonous road trip with a pretty lady and all the food and wine we can see but not taste.

Raising a glass to all that is Michael Winterbottom, the director of The Trip to Spain, the third in his successful series of gastro-comic road trips with duelling impressionists Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon. They've been to Northern England and they've been to Italy and now, it's apparently time to take their semi-fictional comic-actor characters, improvised scenes and competing Michael Caine voices to the Iberian Peninsula. The itinerary for a working vacation and coastal tour calls for a week of pretentious cuisine, chic pastoral hotels and mid-life ruminations.

And lonely, soul-searching jogging on the ancient stone roads of quaintly rustic villages. There's a lot of that.

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There are also a lot of impersonations, too much so. The Trip films are condensed versions of a British television series. Over the course of a six-show season, the impressions of Coogan and Brydon are spread out. In the films (in The Trip to Spain particularly) these comedic showcases are crammed together like sardines (which they eat in one scene).

In a segment about the Moors, Brydon can't stop doing Roger Moore, to the annoyance of Coogan and this reviewer. "Less is more," an exasperated Coogan says, and I couldn't agree … more.

The "story" of the lovely looking but rather unsmiling Spanish sojourn involves Brydon and Coogan, both in their early 50s, in differing states of existential crisis. Brydon's character, who is hired to write restaurant reviews for The New York Times, is a London family man with two children. (One crawling, fat toddler is still in diapers.) Coogan's guy, whose profile in Hollywood is fading fast, is involved with a gorgeous American who's young enough to be his … improbably gorgeous American girlfriend.

For this buddy trip, though, it's mostly just the two of them. They needle each other and spar with comic panache. "My people will be in touch with, well, you," Coogan says to his counterpart, while setting up the journey.

It's all scallops, shrimp and, with Coogan's clearly unhappy guy, stereotypical showbiz narcissism and competition. What it isn't is all that compelling. The charm of the films is their unrehearsed (and, one would assume, heavily edited) banter. An attempt here at some sort of overarching thoughtfulness doesn't quite stick and all the impersonations of Mick Jagger and Al Pacino (and Caine – you gotta play the hits, right?) can't save the film from here-we-go-again humdrum, albeit with enough moments of hilarity to keep the thing moving along.

The ending is odd and in questionable taste. Over all, the food porn was played down, the series is getting a little road-weary and who knows what happens with these guys next. If they're thinking about heading to France, a horny Frenchman has some good advice: Paris can wait.

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About the Author

Brad Wheeler is an arts reporter with The Globe and Mail. More

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