New movie goes down very smoothly
The fourth instalment in Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon's The Trip series is an amusing and pleasurable journey through Greece.
The Trip to Greece, written and directed by long-time collaborator Michael Winterbottom, also marks the 10-year anniversary of when the two first started taking culinary trips, initially around England's Lake District.
The pair, playing versions of themselves, drive from place to place, dining on fancy meals and riffing about their lives, careers and ageing while trying to one-up each other's impressions of the likes of Mick Jagger, Marlon Brando, Ray Winstone and, of course, Michael Caine.
A jaunt through Italy followed in 2014, and then one through Spain in 2017, which ended bizarrely with Coogan either being kidnapped by jihadists in Morocco, or having a monster hallucination. This sequel briefly touches on that controversial ending, but only mentioning that Coogan had "gone missing".
By now, The Trip to Greece is like an old jumper. When you pull it on, you know all the familiar grooves of the threads, and you also know where all the snags are.
There's a formula to the process that relies heavily on how much you enjoy being in the company of Coogan and Brydon, and their good-natured, rhythmic jibing and easy chemistry while staring out at the sparkling, azure-coloured waters behind them.
It's a cocktail that goes down smoothly and an ideal way to spend a couple of hours.
While Coogan was obsessed with Orwell and Cervantes on the Iberian Peninsula in Spain, further west he wants to recreate, albeit in a much truncated timeline, Odysseus' journey from Troy to Ithaca.
Coogan's stickler for the finer points of Ancient Greece ("It's Heracles, the Romans called him Hercules") balances well with Brydon's irreverence of such pomposity ("I only know Hercules from the film") and it's that push-and-pull of their banter and their friendship that drives these movies, because there's never much plot.
If there is an arc, it's in the glimpses we have of their personal lives, built up over the four movies - Brydon and his happy, young family, Coogan with his less-happy home life. The Trip to Greece is further laced with these persistent themes.
The Coogan and Brydon we see on screen are not the real people, even if they share the same names and many of the same biographical and career details. For example, unlike the on-screen Coogan, the real one doesn't have an adult son.
But both Coogans did work with Kareem Alkabbani on Greed, the other Coogan/Winterbottom movie that will now bypass cinemas and be released on video-on-demand because of the coronavirus pandemic, like The Trip to Greece.
That blurring is part of the four movies' appeal, getting a taste of these two famous actors and comics while allowing them to keep a safe personal distance. And a taste of it is enough.
They're not meant to be particularly challenging, and apart from the occasional discussion on ageing, they're rarely deep. They're meant to be leisurely and amiable, and The Trip to Greece ticks those boxes.
Coogan, Brydon and Winterbottom have all said this is the last chapter, so like those delectable dishes and gorgeous vistas that form the backdrop of The Trip to Greece, savour it.
Much like Homer's epic poem, the ending is ultimately a satisfying one.
The Trip to Greece is available on video-on-demand from Wednesday, May 20
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Originally published as New movie goes down very smoothly