The Trip to Greece
⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Run Time: 1 hour 43 minutes
Stars: Rob Brydon, Steve Coogan
Director: Michael Winterbottom
In theaters and on various streaming services.
Only Bob Hope and Bing Crosby have made more road movies than actor Steve Coogan and comedian Rob Brydon, who in four films over the course of a decade have toured, eaten, and verbally jousted their way from England to the eastern Mediterranean.
For their fourth — possibly last — installment the boys retrace the route of Odysseus, but don’t be fooled by that high-minded premise: Coogan and Brydon are the main attraction as they casually tweak each other’s’ egos, ruefully negotiate the minefields of middle age, and engage in breathtaking can-you-top-this celebrity impersonations. Coogan’s take on Mick Jagger after his heart surgery would seem insurmountable — until Brydon chimes in with his version of Keith Richards. And both fly into show-stopping imitations of Dustin Hoffman, each one different but getting to a separate facet of the actor’s screen persona.
Speaking of persona, when Brydon dons a Greek theater mask and erupts into an Anthony Hopkins monologue — invoking that ingeniously evocative monotone, those deliciously twisted “r”s — it’s difficult to remember that’s not Sir Anthony hiding back there.
The premise of the Trip movies has always been the same: Coogan and Brydon play fictitious versions of themselves, two guys whose greatest joy seems to be being gloriously abusive of each other in the most civil and jovial manner possible. Over a truly delicious-looking fish plate, Brydon tells Coogan he has become more handsome with age, adding, “you were unpalatable as a young man.” When Coogan says the thing he’s most proud of is his seven BAFTA awards, Brydon chastises him: “I’d have said my children.” To which Coogan coolly replies, “That’s because you have no BAFTA awards.”
For the first three Trip films and two-thirds of this one, the main focus is on banter, the scenery, and the so-beautiful-you-can-taste-it food. But from the outset of this installment, there’s a sense that the guys and director Michael Winterbottom are aiming for something a bit more substantial. There’s a lot of talk about the subtle ravages of age — which at one point leads to the pair engaging in an ill-advised swim across a Greek harbor. And we know from the start — through phone conversations back home and some touchingly staged dream sequences — that Coogan has serious matters on his mind.
Then, not 15 minutes before the fade-out, The Trip becomes a totally different film. Shortly after the guys float through a cave that the ancient Greeks believed led to the Underworld, the sunny skies and impossibly blue waters give way to a cloud of sudden sadness. In one dark moment, that ever-reliable trove of ready jokes is swept away, as if by an Aegean tempest.
It’s a jarring change of tone, made even more head-spinning by Winterbottom’s decision to take this opportunity to illustrate one of life’s more unpleasant realities: Despite the best intentions of good friends and close relatives, our personal tragedies are ours alone.
Like the Greeks understood, the boat on the river Styx only has seating for one.
Featured image: Still from A Trip to Greece (Photo credit: IFC Films)
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