In the third incarnation of The Trip series, The Trip To Spain, director Michael Winterbottom and stars Steve Coogan, and Rob Brydon stay relevant by hardly changing at all. That’s an unusual feat. Normally, a shtick ceases to be interesting as soon as you can identify it. Jokes are like music, where the creators take great pains to disguise the underlying math — a phenomenon perhaps best illustrated by Dana Carvey’s impression of a musician who makes a surprised face at his own chord changes. The magic of The Trip movies is that I know this shtick. I could write a Ted Talk or PowerPoint presentation about this shtick. And yet here I am still enjoying it, three films in. It’s fitting that the series is set in restaurants, because the films themselves have begun to function like a favorite restaurant: I know exactly what I’m getting and I couldn’t be happier when I get it.
The Trip series airs as a television show in the UK before being edited into films for international audiences only vaguely familiar with Coogan and Brydon (an aspect of their personae frequently played for laughs). The format is a semi-autobiographical road trip comedy set in fine restaurants, sort of like Curb Your Enthusiasm meets No Reservations. (It now occurs to me that Coogan and Brydon doing Anthony Bourdain as Michael Caine would be a fine addition.) The draw is that Coogan and Brydon spend the entire time riffing and busting each other’s balls, and they’re very good at that, in a smugly British way.
It’s been seven years since The Trip and three since The Trip To Italy, and comedy formats tend to get stale in much less time. How many comedy sequels are actually good, let alone comedy threequels? The Trip To Spain has virtually the exact same structure as the previous two — a road trip to a foreign land, featuring car scenes, restaurant scenes, phone calls to agents, phone calls to loved ones, career troubles, relationship complications, a silly promotional photoshoot, a sad thing, ennui, and constant impressions — but the beauty of The Trip series is that its structure is a means to no structure. It flows languidly from one subject to the next, almost more like a podcast than a show or movie. The casualness of it lulls you into a trance-like state where you’re much more open to the subtle charms of, say, Steve Coogan’s Mick Jagger impression (which kills me, even when I’ve already seen it, even when I know it’s coming).