Michael Winterbottom’s The Trip To Spain expands his foodie-humor franchise into a three-course experience. Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon first jested their way through northern England, then conquered Italy’s coastal delicacies while trading wits. So how does Winterbottom’s third helping measure up to previous cuts? With a bit more fat and gristle than hoped, overcooked until the comedic juices have all but dried out. That’s not to say a dash of Coogan and handfuls of Brydon fail to salvage this slab of comedy, but comparatively, Spain is the least appetizing trip so far.
Which, for the record, is like saying you prefer Gordon Ramsay and Anthony Bourdain to Thomas Keller. It’s still all gravy, baby.
Coogan and Brydon find themselves once again traveling afar, sampling native delicacies and writing about their exploits (Coogan through novelization, Brydon by critique). Spain’s landscape offers an abundance of seafood, spicy Chorizo and vibrant veggie delights. You’d think these dishes might be Winterbottom’s main attraction, correct? Not without comparisons to Don Quixote and his companion Sancho Panza! As waiters come and go, the two chums trade impressions and square off in attention-seeking validation. Roger Moore might be eating a scallop one minute, while Mick Jagger is sipping wine the next. Jokes blend with meals, insecurities bring about boastful admissions, life speeds along – aw, hell. You’ve seen the other two trips (I’m assuming). You get the drill by now.
At a not-so-brisk 155 minutes, The Trip To Spain could have used a good twenty-to-thirty minutes trimmed off. Pare down meandering duels as Brydon resurrects a voice we’ve heard numerous times already, or maybe even remove one restaurant altogether? Unlike – and especially – The Trip To Italy, Winterbottom can’t avoid a sensation of repetition. Similar prawn platings hover under Coogan and Brydon’s noses as they clap through another Jag-off (seriously, Mick Jagger is in every other scene). Coogan’s insecurities about not being a bigger star after Philomena recur, while Brydon lives out his tiny escape from family imprisonment much like the previous two films let on.
We have, most certainly, seen this all before.
That said, it’s goddamn Steve Coogan and freakin’ Rob Brydon. UK wits whiz and bang like a verbal fireworks display, while laughs reverberate until tears flow. There’s a fantastic bit about tepid Nazis, Brydon works a tremendous “Roger Moore as a native Moor” long-take (Coogan frustratingly tries to spout historical facts, Brydon derails), a Brando showdown turns Godfather-meets-the-Spanish-Inquisition – delight is unavoidable. These moments are, for lack of a better phrase, delectably hilarious. Barbs and timing simmer a perfect tandem chemistry, where even the longest spells of disinterest can be broken by a spot-on celebrity riff. This is the sole reason why The Trip To Spain works, and doesn’t burn in flames like an overly alcohol-soaked flambe.
Although, make no excuse. This time around, both dramatic through-lines and Instagramable culinary porn are under-seasoned. Both men secretly want what the other has, despite convincing themselves that their “prime” has only begun. Tell that to Coogan’s agent who wants an up-and-comer to rewrite his script, or to Brydon, who must put family over success. Plots thicken when Coogan’s son dampens a planned visit, but these down-beats are never supplemental enough to combat an over-abundance of satirical mockery. Same for the menu items, which are glanced in passing and described with little more expression. I’d devour it all – don’t get me wrong – but side-dish elements feel pushed aside throughout Winterbottom’s latest offering.
If my talk of vocal mimicking and mouth-watering morsels are new to your cinematic palate, I urge you to first watch The Trip or The Trip To Italy before biting into The Trip To Spain. It’s not that familiarity is numbing or unfulfilling. England and Italy just provide meatier substance. Conversational drama (ala Linklater’s Before franchise), plates piled with last-meal dinner fantasies, unparalleled improv – third time is still the charm, but Michael Winterbottom lets the stew boil a bit too long. Although, we do get to see “Al Pacino” recite Shakespeare on a traditional Spanish theater stage – for that reason alone, you should give this flavorful trip your attention.
The Trip To Spain comes out of the oven boasting aromatic richness by way of familiar improv hilarity, but over time it dries out a bit despite still being a worthy addition to Winterbottom's foodie-franchise.