September 4, 2014 at 1:00 am

Tom Long

Review: 'Trip to Italy' finds two comics bouncing around the country

Rob Brydon, left, and Steve Coogan riff their way through a series of restaurants in 'The Trip to Italy.' (IFC Films)

“The Trip to Italy” is the funniest movie of the year. If you’re of a certain bent. Or if you’re just bent.

Best not be much interested in plot, since there’s almost none. This is a sequel to “The Trip,” in which comics Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon — playing Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon — traipsed about England, staying at fancy hotels and eating gourmet meals. This time they do the same thing, except in Italy.

Their travels are supposed to provide reviews for a British paper, but the premise is really just an excuse for director Michael Winterbottom to capture breathtaking landscapes, take in the hustle and bustle and artistry of fine dining kitchens and let Coogan and Brydon riff off one another.

Coogan (“Philomena,” “Night at the Museum”) is far better known in the States (he’s one step down from a God in England), but it’s Brydon, a master of mimicry whose speed of thought is reminiscent of Robin Williams, who sets the film’s manic pace.

The two will be sitting in some plush, elegant restaurant bickering back and forth with their Michael Caine accents, or running through all the various James Bonds, or having a Brando-off. Brydon breaks into his blaring, spot-on Al Pacino over and over again — hey, it’s Italy — and of course De Niro gets a shot. And then Brydon transforms seamlessly into Hugh Grant, with every stutter perfect.

The film’s nature is established early on when Brydon conducts an extended, muffled, garbled conversation between Christian Bale’s whispery Batman and Tom Hardy’s villainous mouth-covered Bane between plates of antipasto and pasta. It’s the stuff of pure comic genius.

Winterbottom — who also gets writing credit, although it’s hard to believe anyone gave these two actual lines — does let some human feelings and vulnerabilities run through the movie. Coogan is trying to re-establish contact with his teenage son (Timothy Leach), and Brydon tapes an audition for an American film, reaching for more. Beyond that it’s obvious Brydon is somewhat trapped within his characters — he can’t let them go and come out himself. There’s a desperation in both men that forges a bond.

But that bond also involves heaps of humor as the two discuss the merits of Alanis Morrisette, the problem with sequels (remember, they’re in one) and British poets in Italy. All while dodging traffic, taking dips in the sea, marveling at ruins and eating endless plates of precisely prepared food.

Understand, the humor ranges from extremely dry (Coogan) to Brydon doing cartoon characters. And there’s more than a bit of a dark British twist to things — at one point Brydon carries on a friendly conversation with a petrified human corpse. So this film is not for everyone.

But if it’s your cup of tea, you’re likely to spill it from laughing so hard. Somebody send these two on another holiday.

'The Trip to Italy'

GRADE: B+

Not rated

Running time: 108 minutes

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