We’re three films into what might be the most curious film franchise around, reteaming director Michael Winterbottom and actors Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon (playing fictionalized versions of themselves) for The Trip to Spain. If you never saw The Trip (2010) or The Trip to Italy (2014), the idea is that these two actors go around eating at fancy restaurants, bantering back and forth, and continually trying to outdo each other’s celebrity impressions.
This is the basic gist of the films, though there’s always a bit of melancholy underneath the surface that makes the movies a bit weightier than they have any business being. The Trip to Spain is no different, with the duo this time driving through Spain and struggling with their aging bodies, their relationships and the different directions their careers are going.
All of this is handled fine, with an obvious professionalism (if a lack of true verve) from Winterbottom, while Coogan and Brydon have an admittedly special chemistry with one another. If they didn’t, the film would be close to unwatchable. Instead, it’s occasionally amusing, while nevertheless feeling monumentally superfluous. If you get three movies deep into any franchise, diminished returns are inevitable; three movies into a franchise that’s as simple — and downright repetitive — as this one, and you’re just being selfish.
Is another 110 minutes of existential crises and endless celebrity impressions really needed? If you’ve seen any part of these films, you know this one. Hell, you probably know it from the trailer. I suppose if you have an investment in these two characters, there’s a chance you can care where it’s all going, but they’re difficult to really latch onto, as they manically bray in fancy restaurants (this film seems louder than previous installments). Some if it can be funny, but The Trip to Spain is one of those cases where enough jokes (and more celebrity impersonations) are thrown against the wall that something’s bound to stick. And Coogan and Brydon are clever and obviously inherently funny enough to make things jell from time to time.
All of this is incredibly frustrating, because there are brief aspects of brilliance here, especially in the strangely open-ended way the film wraps up. Without spoiling what happens here, it is a fascinating summation of the film and the state-of-mind of Coogan’s character. But it’s brief and comes after a lot of unevenness and wheel-spinning on the part of the plot that doesn’t make such a moment of curiosity worth it. I’ll probably remember The Trip to Spain more for its last 30 seconds than anything Coogan and Brydon did on screen, which I doubt was anyone’s intent. Not Rated. Now playing at Fine Arts Theatre.