The “Trip” movie trilogy follows a strict formula — actors Rob Brydon and Steve Coogan, portraying slightly fictional versions of themselves, indulge in a food-oriented travelogue punctuated by lots of banter, often involving impersonations of British celebs.
It’s generally been a good formula, and if the new installment, “The Trip to Spain,” perhaps isn’t quite up to the series’ opener (“The Trip,” 2010), it’s certainly a healthy cut above the second film (“The Trip to Italy,” 2014).
Despite the beautifully sunny Spanish landscapes our heroes cross, there’s an autumnal feeling about this outing, the comedy glancing into more serious matters as the film goes along. There’s always been an undertone of competition between the two principals, with Coogan rubbing it in about his theoretically superior credentials. (He delights in mentioning his Oscar nominations for writing “Philomena.”)
Both men are talented impersonators, and anyone who’s seen “The Trip,” with its on-the-nose Michael Caine imitations, will know. In the new movie, Mick Jagger gets the treatment, as does Roger Moore and, to a lesser extent, David Bowie (and there’s even a Paul McCartney quickie). The dialogue has the same improvisational feeling, and there are plenty of restaurant visits to tantalize foodies. (The upscale Spanish seafood consumed by the pair looks terrific.)
But Michael Winterbottom, who has directed all three “Trip” films, introduces small disquieting notes. Coogan is informed by phone, and after the fact, that his agent is no longer his agent, but has been replaced by the agent’s assistant. More troubling news: The studio has hired another writer to give a polish to Coogan’s latest screenplay. And Brydon is taken aback to learn that his pal is having an affair with on old girlfriend, now married.
Their mutual needling gets sharper when the pair dine out with two female assistants after taking some publicity shots (in which they are required to dress as Don Quixote and Sancho Panza, pretty funny). The men are clearly ultra-sensitive to the slights that are inescapable in show biz, but there’s more to it. You get the feeling they are uncomfortably aware that the years have started to pass very quickly.
But there’s plenty of good comedy. The men aim verbal slings and arrows at many past and present pop culture targets — including that old ’60s chestnut sung by Noel Harrison, “The Windmills of Your Mind.” (It’s the “Don Quixote” theme again.) But by the curtain fall, a melancholy air prevails.
You’ll need to overlook the film’s ending, a lapse in judgment that seems mainly aimed at setting up another sequel. Otherwise, what’s not to like about spending some time with a couple of bright and droll dining companions?
(At the Rio, Tivoli.)
‘The Trip to Spain’
Not rated. Time: 1:48.