Your ability to enjoy The Trip will largely hinge on how much you enjoy the caustic chemistry between stars Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon, both of whom play exaggerated versions of themselves. Actually, to call their chemistry caustic is to mislead, as Brydon stays eternally affable (puzzlingly so) in the face of Coogan’s relentless acidic put-downs and bile. In fact, the entire plot of The Trip basically exists an as excuse to put Coogan and Brydon together and let the audience enjoy their squirrelly interactions, which had previously worked so well in Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story.
The premise is simple; Coogan accepts an assignment from The Observer to tour a handful of landmarks and fine restaurants in northern England. When his girlfriend begs off, Coogan asks Brydon along for the ride. Along the way, Brydon irritates Coogan endlessly with near constant impressions of Bond villains, Michael Caine, and Al Pacino, among others, and Coogan counters by being endlessly condescending to Brydon.
The way each actor’s respective careers informs their relationship provides the most interesting subtext of The Trip. Coogan’s professional life is characterized by tremendous highs followed by lengthy periods of inactivity, whereas Brydon is consistently well-received — never in a trench but never on top of the world. Brydon extols the virtues of always being “warm, never hot,” and Coogan unconvincingly defends the nature of his career despite being evidently ill at ease with it’s current state.
The biggest problem with The Trip is the way these sort of existential issues gel, or fail to gel, with the movie’s main attraction. Coogan’s career crises and increasing disconnection from his girlfriend do occasionally produce some affecting material, but these moments frequently feel at odds with the scenes of Coogan and Brydon’s sniping at each other. Director Michael Winterbottom whittles down the original three-hour BBC miniseries into a dryly funny and surprisingly fleet movie, which is no small feat for being 112 minutes of road-tripping, but the occasional tonal switches create a minor awkwardness that prevents The Trip from being as great as it could have been.