THE TRIP TO GREECE (Michael Winterbottom). 102 minutes. Available for rental and purchase on digital VOD platforms Friday (May 22). Rating: NNN
The Trip To Greece is the fourth in a series of largely improvised travelogues from director Michael Winterbottom in which the British comedians Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon play versions of themselves driving around scenic locations, eating at exquisite restaurants and bickering affectionately at one another.
That’s it. That’s the franchise. Each of the films – pared down every time from a six-part BBC series – offers 100 minutes of rambling, fine dining and gentle one-upmanship, with “Steve” preening about his career and fussing about relationships while “Rob” takes the piss out of him by pointing out he’ll never be able to escape the shadow of his obnoxious TV presenter character Alan Partridge. They frequently find themselves touring ruins. They trade celebrity impressions. (Roger Moore’s James Bond is a particular favourite.) To be honest, it’s been a lot of fun.
If you’ve been following along with the Trip movies, you will no doubt be excited to see The Trip To Greece, in which Coogan and Brydon do all the things we’ve enjoyed watching them do before, but this time retracing the journey of Odysseus in The Iliad.
Odysseus’s voyage home took 10 years; Steve and Rob have seven days, thanks to the advantage of a hybrid Range Rover. But as Rob notes, they’ve been doing these trips for a decade now, so it all kind of makes sense. And the only battles are metaphorical, with this particular journey forcing the pair to confront certain realities they’ve been trying not to face: age, loneliness, privilege, the state of the world.
More than the previous films, there’s a sense The Trip To Greece that laughing in the face of one’s own mortality can’t really change anything. Steve and Rob have barely landed in the country when they meet a refugee worker Coogan (and Winterbottom) encountered on Greed, which leads to a discussion about the Syrians who’ve spent months or years in holding camps.
For a moment, it feels like the series is about to break its format and do something different – much like the weird, ambiguous ending of 2017’s The Trip To Spain, which seemed to suggest Steve was about to be taken hostage in North Africa – but the movie quickly dismisses that possibility. (The whole North Africa affair is similarly dispensed with in a couple of lines of dialogue.) The Trip To Greece will also be about Steve and Rob doing the things we want them to do.
And indeed, this film finds Coogan, Brydon and Winterbottom very consciously repeating themselves in both form and content. It’s all watchable enough, but individual elements – like a subplot about Steve’s dad falling ill back in Manchester – feel like they should be landing harder. Perhaps they do in the BBC series, which will hopefully turn up here at some point.
That said, if you just want the vicarious experience of watching two friends go out for meals together in splendid locations, this movie delivers plenty of that – and it looks absolutely lovely. Christ knows we can use the landscape porn right now.