Two Guys On A Road Trip, Racking Up Comic Mileage

Jun 9, 2011
Originally published on June 10, 2011 8:36 pm

How's this for meta? British funnymen Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon are friends in real life. In their new movie, they play friends — named Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon. And because the movie is called The Trip, they go on a trip. Happily, they turn out to be amusing company — albeit more for us than for each other.

As the opening credits roll, the dyspeptic Coogan is telling his considerably more easygoing colleague that he has landed a magazine assignment as a celebrity food critic. He's to spend a week visiting Britain's country inns, then report back to The Observer. Coogan thought his girlfriend, a real foodie, would go with him, but she bailed; not wanting to go alone, he's asking Brydon, letting it drop that he has already asked several others who've declined.

Who could resist so gracious an invitation? Brydon gets permission from his wife, and in short order they're off, driving and dining and making wisecracks, mostly while doing spot-on impressions of bigger celebs. Spot-on dueling impressions, too, of Sean Connery, Woody Allen, Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, Winston Churchill, Stephen Hawking and most impressively Michael Caine. In the space of perhaps 45 seconds, Brydon traverses Caine's whole vocal career from Alfie to Alfred, seductive high to Batman-butler low, nasal to breathy. It's quite the tour-de-force.

The food they're mostly ignoring during their duels is downright architectural, and looks delicious, though that doesn't keep Coogan from complaining that his selections don't seem as interesting as his tablemate's. The screen Coogan is a bit of a diva, actually, prickly about everything from his cellphone signal to the one hotel where it looks like they'll have to share a room.

The filmic Rob Brydon, by contrast, is comparatively cheery — ordering scallops everywhere they go (though no one ever comments on that fact), suggesting edifying little poetic side trips, and at night trying to talk his wife into a bit of phone sex, initially in Hugh Grant's voice.

Director Michael Winterbottom, best known in the U.S. for such weightier fare as Welcome to Sarajevo and The Road to Guantanamo, lets a little seriousness seep in at times, but he's mostly just having a lark in The Trip, which he's excerpted from a six-episode British TV series he made with Coogan and Brydon last year.

The two actors also played themselves as actors in Winterbottom's Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story a few years back, and the improvisational rapport they exhibited there has blossomed into a pretty seamless partnership, whether they're blanching at the made-up eulogies they'd deliver at each other's funerals or letting their imaginations run riot, dreaming up dialogue for the costume epics they'd love to film in the rolling hills they're driving through.

Not sure when I lost it and started laughing at absolutely everything they said, but by the time they were singing ABBA songs at the top of their lungs, I was gone. These guys are a hoot, and The Trip is a trip and a half.

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

And now, from the world of film, here's a meta-construct. The British comedian Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon are friends in real life. In their new movie, they play friends named Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon. Their movie is called "The Trip," and Bob Mondello says they're great company on their trip.

BOB MONDELLO: As the opening credits roll, pain-in-the-neck Steve Coogan is telling his easygoing buddy Rob Brydon that he has a magazine assignment as a celebrity food critic. He's to spend a week visiting Britain's country inns and report back. Coogan thought his girlfriend, a real foodie, would go with him, but she bailed, so...

(Soundbite of film, "The Trip")

Mr. STEVE COOGAN (Actor): (As Steve) I've asked other people, but they're all too busy. So, you know, do you want to come?

MONDELLO: Who could resist so gracious an invitation? Brydon gets permission from his wife, and then they're off, driving and dining and making wisecracks, mostly while doing impressions, dueling impressions.

(Soundbite of film, "The Trip")

Mr. COOGAN: (as Steve) I've not heard your Michael Caine, but I assume it would be something along the lines of: My name's Michael Caine.

Mr. ROB BRYDON: (as Rob) That is where you are so wrong. And you can look at my live video to prove it because that's the very thing I don't do. I say that he used to talk to like that.

Mr. COOGAN: (as Steve) Do your Michael Caine.

Mr. BRYDON: (as Rob) OK. I say: Michael Caine used to talk like this in the 1960s, right? But that has changed. And I say that over the years, Michael's voice has come down several octaves, let me finish, and all of the cigars and the brandy - don't - let me finish...

MONDELLO: He takes Caine from "Alfie" to "Batman" in about 45 seconds.

(Soundbite of film, "The Trip")

Mr. BRYDON: (as Rob) (Unintelligible) Well, I'm still not finished...

MONDELLO: Pretty amazing. They also do dueling Woody Allens and Sean Connerys, De Niros, Pacinos, lots of others.

The food they're mostly ignoring through these duels is downright architectural in its arrangement on plates, though that doesn't keep Coogan from complaining about it almost as much as he does about his cell phone signal and the loneliness of stardom.

The film Steve Coogan is kind of a diva. The film Rob Brydon is comparatively cheery, ordering scallops everywhere they go, though no one ever comments on that fact, suggesting edifying little poetic side trips and at night trying to talk his wife into a bit of phone sex, initially in Hugh Grant's voice.

(Soundbite of film, "The Trip")

Mr. BRYDON: (As Rob) Could I interest in you some rather salacious sort of -(unintelligible)...

MONDELLO: And then in his own voice.

(Soundbite of film, "The Trip")

Mr. BRYDON: (As Rob) Speaking of boiled eggs, I'm not wearing any pajama bottoms.

Unidentified Woman: Aw, you saucy boy.

Mr. BRYDON: (As Rob) Don't say aw. You should ooh.

MONDELLO: Director Michael Winterbottom, best known in the U.S. for weightier fare like "Welcome to Sarajevo," lets a little seriousness seep in at times, but he's mostly just having a lark in "The Trip," and so are his performers, letting their imaginations run wild as they're driving.

(Soundbite of film, "The Trip")

Unidentified Man #1: I would just love to do a costume drama in these hills, leaping, vaulting over dry stone walls with a scabbard with this, like, dead look in my eyes because I've seen so many horrors that I'm sort of immune to it. But they all say something like: Gentlemen to bed. Gentlemen to bed, for we leave at first light. To bed, for we rise at daybreak.

Unidentified Man #2: Very good, very good, very impressive.

Unidentified Man #1: It was only at daybreak. They never leave at, you know, 9:30.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Unidentified Man #1: Gentlemen to bed, for we leave at 9:30-ish.

MONDELLO: I'm not sure when I lost it and started laughing at everything they said, but by the time they were singing ABBA songs at the top of their lungs, I was gone. These guys are a hoot, and "The Trip" is a trip and a half. I'm Bob Mondello. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.