Admittedly, the whole point of a sequel is to provide more of the same for those who enjoyed the original item, with a slight variation for novelty’s sake. It’s rare, though, to see an example of the form as blasé about its recycling as The Trip To Italy, which simply sends Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon out to have another series of gourmet meals and amusing conversations, but in a different country this time. (Spoiler alert: It’s Italy.) Like the first Trip, this new one exists in a longer, more blatantly episodic form as well, having been condensed from a six-part miniseries that aired on British television; for those who can find a way to do so, that’s probably the ideal way to experience it. It works reasonably well as a film, too, though, provided that one isn’t overly bothered by repetition and a general sense of diminishing returns.
As before, Brydon and Coogan play “themselves,” though their personal lives have again been fictionalized. Ostensibly, Brydon is writing another series of restaurant reviews for the Observer, but little time is wasted on establishing the premise; no sooner has Coogan made a self-conscious remark about sequels inevitably proving a disappointment than the boys are back on the road, driving across the Italian countryside with nothing to listen to except Alanis Morissette’s Jagged Little Pill. Seated opposite one another at various tables, or wandering around tourist sites, Brydon and Coogan improvise routines very similar to those in the first Trip, with a heavy emphasis on celebrity impressions—their Michael Caines even make a reappearance, as part of a lengthy sequence devoted to The Dark Knight Rises.
In general, Winterbottom, Coogan, and Brydon seem to have paid close attention to which bits people most enjoyed from the original series and made an effort to provide more of the same. Nothing here is as hilariously inspired as “Gentlemen, to bed!” or “Come, come, Mr. Bond,” much less the dueling Caines, but there are still plenty of laughs, with Brydon in particular finding an ideal venue in which to perform his “little man in a box” shtick. Given that the film version is an hour shorter than the miniseries, it’s surprising that it retains so much of the extraneous “personal” material, which this time involves Brydon’s extramarital affair with a tour guide (Rosie Fellner) and Coogan’s fractious relationship with his fictional family, conducted via Skype. Both subplots aim for poignancy, and are well acted, but it’s hard to care about these two guys as fictional characters when they spend most of the movie playing close variations of themselves, just riffing together. Should they go on to explore the dining options of other nations, they’d be well advised to expand their comic horizons a little bit and leave the phony efforts at drama behind.