"THE TRIP TO SPAIN" — 2½ stars — Steve Coogan, Rob Brydon, Marta Barrio, Claire Keelan; not rated; Broadway
"The Trip to Spain" is the latest in a series of films that follow British actors Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon on scenic, well-fed road trips. Originally produced as multiple TV episodes and later edited into feature-length films, the different installments are extended conversations set over various expensive meals, punctuated by scenic vistas from the film's different settings.
"The Trip," released in 2010, took them through northern England, and 2014's installment focused on Italy. This time around, the adventure comes to Spain.
The basic premise is that Coogan always intends to bring along his girlfriend, Mischa (Margo Stilley), on these romantic paid vacations — Coogan is supposedly writing reviews of the restaurants — but when she inevitably cancels, Brydon gets roped in at the last minute. Where for most people this would be an acceptable substitute, Coogan and Brydon — who essentially play fictionalized versions of themselves — have a strange, competitive, love-hate relationship that creates a constant state of tension in their travels.
The result is a curious combination of mild drama, loose travel documentary and dark comedy that paints a portrait of two abrasive personalities set against a backdrop of stunning scenery and exotic food. There are also a lot of celebrity impressions. It's an acquired taste, for lack of a less punlike description, but if you're willing to invest, it's a unique experience.
"Trip to Spain" starts off predictably, with the eternal bachelor Coogan swinging by Brydon's place in a Range Rover — not a Land Rover, Coogan specifies — to wrest him away from his wife and two young children. Even before they board the ferry to Spain, their conversation is undercut with subtle jabs and put-downs.
Director Michael Winterbottom establishes the pair as a modern-day Don Quixote and Sancho Panza, exploring the beauties of Spain while Coogan raves against the windmills of his middle age. Coogan feels superior to Brydon, even though he's constantly fighting his own sense of professional insecurity. Brydon knows Coogan feels superior but tolerates him because he's getting a free vacation away from his screaming kids.
The loose plot that follows takes the pair from idyllic Spanish locale to idyllic Spanish locale, sampling high-end restaurants and visiting beautiful architectural sites. Over their meals, the actors debate various issues and discuss aspects of their personal lives, inevitably working in various celebrity impressions (mostly British), this time including everyone from Mick Jagger to Michael Caine to John Hurt.
Along the way, the bits and pieces of their personal lives add characterization and color to the thin narrative. Coogan is frustrated because his agent, Matt (Kerry Shale), has left his agency and didn't try to keep him as a client, even though he did keep Will Ferrell. The plot thickens later in the film when Matt gives Brydon a pitch.
The production hinges on the chemistry between Coogan and Brydon, and their mutual animosity manages to drive the film forward. To appreciate "The Trip to Spain" is to appreciate blink-and-you-miss-it subtleties like the description of "life-affirming butter" or Coogan's reaction when Brydon proudly tells him that David Bowie followed him on Twitter before he died. The end product is more intriguing than it is engrossing, but it's a pretty unique way of seeing a country.
"The Trip to Spain" is not rated; running time: 108 minutes