A film review by Craig J. Koban June 10, 2020

THE TRIP TO GREECE jjj

2020, No MPAA Rating, 103 mins.

Steve Coogan as Steve  /  Rob Brydon as Rob  /  Kareem Alkabbani as Kareem  /  Marta Barrio as Yolanda  /  Tessa Walker as Chloe

Directed by Michael Winterbottom

THE TRIP TO GREECE is the fourth film in director Michael Winterbottom's mockumentary series of films featuring Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon - playing loosely fictionalized versions of themselves - traveling to all points of exotic and picturesque locales of the world while engaging in some fine dining.  

The series actually began on the small screen as the BBC series THE TRIP, which in turn was edited down to form the 2011 feature film version of the same name.  The two sequels - 2014's THE TRIP TO ITALY and 2017's THE TRIP TO SPAIN - followed suit (also edited down from the BBC series), which now brings us to the latest and apparently last in this quadrilogy.  Even though THE TRIP TO GREECE might not be as side-splittingly hysterical or fresh as what's come before and the franchise formula is starting to wear a tad thin, this latest installment still scores huge points for the endlessly winning tandem of Coogan and Brydon as their odd couple travelogue hosts. 

Of course, the pair of real life friends are equally gifted on screen comedians, although neither would admit to being less funny than the other.  Part of the sublime pleasure of experiencing these films - outside of drinking in all of the absolutely exquisite scenery on display - is in the spirited level of verbal tomfoolery that the stars get into during their travels and restaurant stops (this usually involves them performing hilariously spot-on dueling impressions of famous actors of the silver screen).  The core formula of these pictures has not changed at all:  The duo walks and drives from one stop to the next, which culminates in them enjoying the greatest food Europe has to offer...and then the process repeats itself.  What allows for these films to never grow too tedious is just how reliably amsuing its stars are playing off of one another.  And they both could not be anymore different: Coogan is more straight cut and serious, whereas Brydon is the more capricious, throw caution to the wind kind of fella.  But when they banter and bicker...well...that's where (as Han Solo would say) the fun begins. 

The title of this film is pretty much a plot descriptor.  Brydon and Coogan once again join parties to tour a new country, this time, yes, Greece, and all while dishing out an endless stream of acerbic jabs during their driving and eating exploits.  THE TRIP TO GREECE opens with Brydon reciting some verse to begin their steps to retrace Odysseus's journey home from the Trojan War.  Brydon - doing a pretty bang on Richard Burton impersonation - is reciting The Iliad, and, rather predictably, Coogan isn't having none of it.  In true Brydon-ian fashion, he looks at the archaeological Troy site and amusingly deadpans "Yeah, there's not a lot here," much to Coogan's chagrin.  As the two depart and journey further in - again, punctuated by a lot of eating and celebrity impersonations - things take a decidedly darker turn as far as this series goes.  Poor Steve learns that his dear old dad is severely sick back at home, a vital tidbit that he doesn't share with his companion on their trek.  The melancholy still punctuates this film as it has past iterations, especially highlighting the vast distance that Coogan and Brydon have apart from their loved ones and family back home.  Even Brydon, for as wild eyed and fancy free as he appears, certainly displays a soft spot for being separated from his clan, even though he's not dealing with the secret pain of losing a father like Coogan. 

 

 

What makes these TRIP films so effortlessly winning is their economy of approach and, as previously mentioned, just how naturally likeable Coogan and Brydon are throughout.  Even though both are wealthy stars (well, perhaps more so with Coogan, as he's probably more recognizable to western audiences and has had more mainstream success), they're still relatable and vulnerable souls and suffer from the same self-loathing insecurities as the best of us.  I think it's their insecurities - and perhaps egos - that make them so damn competitive on the road, seeing which one can out-funny the other.  Coogan is most guilty of taking himself and his career far more seriously, which does invite Brydon in to lock his comedic crosshairs on his pal.  One running gag is how much prominence that Coogan places on his award nominations and wins, which leads to Brydon asking a simple question (almost as if he knows the answer): "What's the biggest source of pride for you?" he asks Coogan, to which he deadpans back, "My seven BAFTAS." Brydon sarcastically retorts that his wife and kids make his cut. 

Exchanges like that truly sum up the core relationship between Coogan and Brydon in all of these films.  Brydon is the always relaxed chill out funnyman looking to just have a cool time, whereas Coogan thinks of his career and rep too much while on vacation.  It does appear that Coogan feels that Brydon's comedic sensibilities are a bit more low brow than his own, which only feeds into Brydon's increasing disdain of Coogan's career platitudes.  That's not to say that Coogan is unfunny in these films.  Far from it.  He scores as many zingers as his co-star, with one of my favorites being his commentary on Brydon singing the theme to GREECE while on the road together ("Are you singing Barry Gibb's GREECE because we're actually in Greece?").  Of course, then comes the endless stream of impressions (the series high note was them trying to out Michael Caine each other, still one of the funniest movie moments of recent memory).  They both cover their greatest hits in some form or another here, like Marlon Brando, Sean Connery, Roger Moore, Hugh Grant (Brydon's mimicry here is spot on) and well as Tom Hardy's Bane (Coogan's version of this is also eerily accurate in how monosyllabic it is), and when they do spar they're always trying to relay why the other's impersonation is lacking finesse.  Even when they don't jab away at each other they engage is weird one-off conversations, like whether Coogan looks like Richard Gere (spoiler alert - he doesn't).   

I haven't talked about Winterbottom much, mostly because he's smart enough of a director to let the remarkable scenery here do much of the talking (the Greece vistas on display here are opulently eye catching and the food that the stars eat is as mouth watering as ever).  And he's also shrewd enough to not overwhelm his film with too much style: He just lets the camera linger on Coogan and Brydon as they let their limitless comic skills completely carry the proceedings.  Two things separate this sequel from previous ones: (1) There's more repressed sadness on display this go around, mostly in the form of Coogan's concerns over his dying dad and (2) this film is now being released via VOD because of a global pandemic that has made the act of going to the cinema - or travelling to any of the countries that the stars here have over the course of four films - all but impossible now.  That latter point has a stinging irony, and may actually and inadvertently turn off passionate travel aficionados from watching this entry.  Or, on a healthier note, you can watch THE TRIP TO GREECE and live vicariously through Coogan and Brydon as they pass through one lush European location to the next.  Even if you're insanely jealous that you can't venture where they are because of Covid-19 travel restrictions, you'll nevertheless forget such matters from all of the laughing you'll experience because of this tandem's unique ability to tickle our collective funny bones.  THE TRIP TO GREECE might be the least of this franchise, but it'll definitely appease  its devotees.  

And, yes, Greece is still the word. 

  H O M E