Opens August 3
Genre Comedy/road movie
Duration 120 minutes
Despite an erratic track record, the director Michael Winterbottom has deservedly earned the respect of most observers of the British film scene. Over two decades he’s established himself as the UK’s most prolific filmmaker, making his films quickly and efficiently on relatively low budgets that make it easier to get the freedom to take creative risks.
That said, to mention Winterbottom as a leading European auteur in the same breath as, say, his compatriots Mike Leigh or Ken Loach, is hard, since the themes, stories and genres he tackles follow no obvious patterns while his directorial style changes wildly from project to project according to the needs of the material.
No wonder, then, that the results also vary, from the artistic successes like 24 Hour Party People, Wonderland and Genova to failed experiments such as 9 Songs and Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story, the latter a bold but largely unsuccessful attempt at adapting Laurence Sterne’s unfilmable novel.
That film’s chief legacy remains the first screen pairing of its stars, Steve Coogan and Rob Bryden, as a thrusting and parrying comedy double act. Their obvious chemistry went on to find surer footing in the 2010 teleseries and feature film, The Trip. In this mock-documentary, or mock food show, the comics played fictionalised versions of themselves touring around Northern English restaurants on commission for a newspaper, with an intense rivalry amusingly never far beneath the surface of their friendship.
They followed it with 2014’s The Trip to Italy, where again they continued the faux-rivalry to often hilarious effect by trying to outdo one another at impersonations of famous actors – Michael Caine was a favourite – and they’re at it again with this third iteration, this time in Spain.
I’ve never been sure why – beyond the desire to give the series a marketing boost – all three six-part teleseries have been also edited down to feature film length and released in cinemas, because the format appears to have been conceived for television and it plays in that medium more comfortably.
We’re accustomed to seeing TV series unfold in serial form over a period of years; that’s the way the medium works. But when you see a third feature film like this one cleaving so closely to a winning formula, it can start to look a little desperate. I don’t begrudge Winterbottom having a hit, but I wouldn’t pay to watch it on the big screen when I could see an extended version in bite-size portions in the comfort of my own home.
Naturally the film version (and no doubt the teleseries, which I haven’t yet seen) offers the expected entertainment value of its stars’ comic impressions, their professional targets this time including Al Pacino, Roger Moore, Anthony Hopkins, John Hurt, Mick Jagger, Brando (in The Godfather), Sean Connery and Ian McKellen. These routines are played out at the dinner table (usually preceded by a few desultory shots of cooks and waiters handling their food) and while they must have taken months of intensive practice to master, give the impression of being entirely improvised.
We learn hardly anything about the food being served, but I’m figuring there’ll be more of this in the teleseries, and in any case, there are so many cooking shows on TV now that fulfill this function perfectly that we could probably do without it even there.
I’ve no idea how the real Bryden and Coogan measure up against their fictional personae, but they paint a convincing picture of the former’s happily married underdog vs Coogan’s more egotistical, cynical playboy. The few women on screen are restricted to the roles of love interest, child-carers or handmaidens wheeled on to organise the chaps’ lives and laugh dutifully at their jokes.
There’s not much in the way of drama, but what there is adds at least a tiny shake of spice to the journey.