Every 3 – 4 years Rob Brydon, Steve Coogan and director Michael Winterbottom have gathered together, to a travelogue. Very funny, very spoofy travelogues, at that. The key focus being that the main 2 actors more or less play exaggerated versions of themselves. They bicker, they eat and a lot of they time, they do impressions. Good ones too. In The Trip to Greece, to make things “appear” more natural, Brydon used a Penguin Classic version of an Aristotle work, to argue that impressions have a place in everyday life.
Kind of hard to argue with him, when the results are as funny as they are, this go around.
The reason for trekking through Greece here, is as flimsy, as it is genius. Coogan and Brydon have been comissioned by The Observer this time, to retrace the 10 year trek of Odysseus, returning home. In 6 days. It’ll be easy, as long as they don’t completely irritate each other to death. Thankfully, they joined by the likes of Mick Jagger, Ray Winstone, Laurence of Olivier, Dustin Hoffman, among others. Well at least their voices. The repartee is great as ever, adding enough variety to steer away from seeing stake. Just got variety sake, Brydon sings no less than 3 songs. You’re welcome.
For a casual glance by outsiders, Brydon and Coogan are doing a more artistic version of what Adam Sandler has been accused of for a long time: making an easy film in a beautiful local. There’s a bit more to it thought, here. First if all, there’s the inclusion of Winterbottom. A director of lesser focus or merit, would fumble things or make a mockery of the proceedings. The actors are more than capable of that. What Winterbottom brings to this and the other entries, is a care for the characters. The journey and friendship between these two men are the key. The series is basically the Before trilogy, but for friendships.
Traditionally the “Trip” movies are lite, but extremely enjoyable, castoffs. You toss it on, you laugh, you go on with your day. It’s a simple premise, captured with stunning picturesque cinematography and dishes to make your mouth water. The real fun comes from seeing Brydon and Coogan cut it up, agitate one another, but more importantly make each other laugh. By doing so, it infects the audience. It’s not by accident that there’s been three of these films, so far. The willingness and expert improvisational skills the two men employ, while playing exaggerated versions of themselves, is fantastic. The twist here is that after 3 outings, something had to give. In slightly changing the dynamic, Winterbottom tosses a wrench in the proceedings, that sure to divide longtime friends.
In The Trip, The Trip to Italy and The Trip to Spain, the main duo had a sliver of a personal life. The audience knew tidbits and peeks behind the curtain, yet too much of that would get into the comedy and dining. Or, at least logic dictates that nothing. With The Trip to Greece, those other elements of life encroach further. Rob is missing his family back home, specially his wife. Going so far as to set up a rendezvous, so she can join him in Greece, once his work as concluded. On the other hand, Steve is constantly distracted. In between normal bouts of pontificating of the status between being a comedian and a serious actor, he receives a series of calls. His son, back in England, is helping care for Steve’s ailing father. Ringing daily, with updates on his condition.
The change of dynamic may seem jarring or odd to include, even as it ties nicely with the Odyssey backdrop. “Originally is overrated, isn’t it,” quips Coogan, early on. The desire to give the audience what they comes to these films for, while changing it up a bit, is engaging. Thought not always successful. Winterbottom peppers in Black-and-White dream sequences, where the travels take their toll on Coogan. It feels out of place, on the surface, when you think about how self-aware everyone involved is. Then 2 minutes later Coogan literally spouts again about how he wants to be viewed as a dramatic actor, rather than serious comedian. Essentially explaining a joke, but still hoping for a slight laugh. Including such a beat is a dangerous slope. One met warmly, as the story of returning to one’s family, is the most natural way to bring the story to a close.
Taken at face value, The Trip to Greece is a slight, but enjoyable distraction. Which is all that could be hoped for. Leisurely rolling by, providing laughs, before ending suddenly and abruptly. The fact that it isn’t the biggest detractor in the world’s instead eliciting a soft scoff means you enjoyed the ride. You could do much worse than the companionship of Brydon and Coogan. Proving that even the least film in this quadrilogy, is still worth your time. Should you be willing to take the trip, that is. If that cheese ball line doesn’t land, nor does the idea of reading it in a Sean Connery accent move you, you might want to sit this one out.