‘Second-album syndrome’ is how co-star Steve Coogan, in a meta moment of self-critique, describes his impending food tour with also-slightly-fictionalised Rob Brydon in director Michael Winterbottom’s sequel to 2010’s ‘The Trip’ (which existed as both a film and a BBC series). This time, the duo is headed to Italy’s glorious Amalfi Coast and several ridiculously good-looking plates of pasta. But if the new film is, indeed, a follow-up to what’s now looking like an essential comedy of middle-age desperation, they haven’t laid an egg as lacklustre as, say, the Stone Roses’s ‘Second Coming’. All the expected notes are hit, and if the company has shoehorned in a bit of filler, there’s still another side of impressive, transitional maturity.
First, the hits: Coogan and Brydon’s duelling Michael Caine impressions are back, and it’s almost too much of a good thing, with riffs extending to the whole central cast of ‘The Dark Knight Rises’ (including a nervous assistant to Christopher Nolan). There’s another exchange later on that’s even more dizzying, Brydon’s shouty Al Pacino mingling with Coogan’s adenoidal Woody Allen in a mashup of the ‘Godfather’ movies and ‘Annie Hall’. Outside of their competitive bubble, these sun-dappled locations – from Pompeii and Campania to Capri’s sexy Casa Malaparte (legendarily used in Jean-Luc Godard’s ‘Le Mepris’) – glow with easy luxury, making the endless sparring especially clueless. On a yacht, they sail via hot air.
The real richness of the movie, though, comes well in, as the improvised script gets around to deeper anxieties of ageing and avoidance. Brydon, this time, finds himself blown off by his too-busy wife and falls into the arms of a comely crew member (Rosie Fellner), guiltily. A through-line of commentary about expat English poets draws Coogan into a self-lacerating funk over a stalled TV show; he shifts gears to reconnect with his teenage son.
As is becoming clear, the ‘Trip’ stories bring their share of luscious, plated delights, but their title refers to something longer-term and uncertain. We know the recipe now – Winterbottom never departs from it, giving this instalment slightly less kick – but the guys have curious appetites they barely understand.