I’m not sure what the competition is, but I will declare that “The Trip to Italy” contains the funniest scene ever set at the site of the Pompeii volcanic eruption. Pompeii— not generally associated with comedy— is one stop on the itinerary for Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon, the British comedians hitting the road again after 2010’s “The Trip.”
In that film, the two men played “Steve Coogan” and “Rob Brydon,” exaggerated versions of themselves; their journey took them into the north of England, where Coogan was supposed to file a newspaper story about the great restaurants they visited.
This time, Brydon invites Coogan on a similar voyage to Italy. Piling into a proper British Mini Cooper (and lacking musical accompaniment save for a single Alanis Morissette CD), they drive around scenic spots, eat good food and indulge in some extended one-upmanship.
Again this partly-improvised lark is directed by Coogan’s “24 Hour Party People” helmer Michael Winterbottom, and again this feature film is winnowed down from a six-part miniseries originally shown on British TV.
Coogan’s character is softer and less aggressive than he was in the first movie. This actually removes a little of the abrasiveness that made “The Trip” work so well, especially as Coogan’s ability to project vanity and self-centered careerism is practically unmatched.
Brydon is the lesser-known comedian, a fact that frequently determines their chemistry together. But he gets into the driver’s seat here, asserting himself more forcefully and even getting his share of the marital blahs to deal with.
The scenery is nice and so is the food, but the movie’s not a travelogue. For all the laughs present— and there are many— the movie is a study in masculine uncertainty, as the two men compete with each other, worry about their careers, and fill the time with absurd riffing on a variety of subjects, including cannibalism and the disappointment of movie sequels.
Of course they both unleash impersonations. This time they revisit their dueling Michael Caine impressions, which might seem like overkill except for the fact that it leads them to the “Dark Knight” movies and Christian Bale and the near-unintelligible villain played by Tom Hardy. And that’s comedy gold.
As before, there’s a bittersweet mood hanging just beneath the comedy. Following in the poetic footsteps of their countrymen Byron and Shelley, the cut-ups wonder whether anyone will remember them in 200 years.
“The Trip” movies may not last that long, but they’ll do for the moment. Besides, Lord Byron did a lousy Al Pacino impression, so Coogan and Brydon have him beat there.
“The Trip to Italy” (3 stars)
A sequel to “The Trip,” reuniting Brit comedians Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon for a jaunt around restaurants in Italy. It’s another funny look at masculine uncertainty, as the two men try to out-joke each other (lots of celebrity impressions, again) and worry about their careers.
Rating: R, for language, subject matter
Opening: Friday at Sundance Cinemas Seattle