What unifies Michael Winterbottom’s four “Trip” movies - besides the great food, gorgeous locations and hilarious celebrity impersonations - is the contrast in the lifestyles of rolling-stone Steve Coogan and steady-as-a-rock Rob Brydon. Seldom has that dynamic been more salient than in their latest installment, “The Trip to Greece.”
The goal is to retrace the 10-year journey of Odysseus (inventor of the Trojan horse) from his victory in Troy to his home in Ithaca. Thanks to modern conveniences, our hosts are able to conquer the trek in a mere six days. What hasn’t changed in the 3,000 years between passages is the meaning of home; or, more precisely, what each perceives as home. For Rob, it’s obviously being in the bosom of his close, loving family; while for Steve, it’s something much more ill-defined, rocky even, pocked with failed marriages and estrangements. Then there’s the matter of Steve’s seven BAFTAs, which he is eager to remind, easily tops Rob’s zero.
In essence, each has his own opposing concept of what the trip to Ithaca represents, and watching it play out is at once a joy and surprisingly moving. And the lessons to be gleaned from the origins of modern civilization and the philosophy of “Ari Stotle” are merely a bonus.
Yet, the expediency of their journey robs us of the time required to more fully absorb the majesty of what they’re experiencing. There’s also the handicap of familiarity. After 10 years of doing their routine in film and on British TV, some of the thrill has reasonably evaporated. But what this “Trip” lacks in originality is more than compensated by the elation of being in the company of two outstanding comedians whose gifts for droll observations on pop culture never grow old.
Those riffs, of course, begin with their uncanny impersonations of everyone from Sean Connery’s James Bond to Marlon Brando’s Don Corleone. And who else could come up with something as insanely ridiculous as Alexander the Great reimagined as an East End gangster voiced by Ray Winstone? My favorite bit, though, is a goof on Coogan’s acclaimed work in 2018’s wonderful “Stan and Ollie” reinvented here as Stan Laurel and Tom Hardy. Brilliant!
The scenery, too, is - as always - a draw, with stops at the ruins of Troy, the Temple of Apollo, the Caves of Diro, the Agora of Athens, the Theatre of Dionysus (breakout the comedy and tragedy masks), and a late-night ferry from Lesvos (home of the original lesbian!). We also visit Hydra, the idyllic island Leonard Cohen once called home, and most affectingly, a refugee camp where Steve reunites with Kareem Alkabbani, an extra in Coogan and Winterbottom’s ill-conceived “Greed” from earlier this year.
Along with the gourmet lamb chops and Athenian salad, we’re served heaping helpings of the ins and outs of longtime friends with an easy rapport enabling them to effortlessly transform from goofing on “Marathon Man” and the death of Marathon (cue the heart-attack jokes) to issues of mortality as each ages past their mid-50’s. That said, I could have definitely lived without the Ingmar Bergman-influenced, black-and-white dreams Coogan is having as part of a growing existential crisis. A little heavy for such an otherwise fluffy exercise not above segueing into Rob’s trademark Small Man Trapped in a Box bit; or dueling Mick Jaggers (marvelous!).
Still, you can’t help pondering the long-term prognosis of these “Trips.” They’ve been a joy, but everything has an expiration date. For now, though, they remain fresh and quite timely as COVID-19 prevents any European vacations for the foreseeable future. In lieu, why not embark on such excursions vicariously? And you couldn’t have two finer traveling companions than these delightful blokes and their unmitigated silliness. So, hop aboard, you’ll enjoy the ride.
Al Alexander may be reached at email@example.com.
“The Trip to Greece”
Cast includes Steve Coogan, Rob Brydon, Kareem Alkabbani and Rebecca Johnson. Available on all streaming platforms beginning May 22.