Tuesday, August 29, 2017

"The Trip To Spain"

The idea behind “The Trip” movies…

Two fiftyish, English “mates”, Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon, one of them more successful in his career than the other (you can tell by which one you’ve heard of), the other more domestically comfortable (you can tell via the process of elimination), travel by car together, visiting “high end” regional restaurants in various countries and eating in them.  Because why would you go there, if you were not going to eat?  You’d be better off visiting historical landmarks, where at least you could learn something.  Although, unless there was an accompanying gift shop selling stale sandwiches or packaged pound cake, you would unlikely get anything to eat. 

Okay, that’s me, rambling.  Which is pretty much what the two fiftyish, English “mates” do, as they motor meanderingly from restaurant to restaurant. 

There have been three “The Trip” movies, all products of a previously produced English television series, whose episodes were subsequently edited and turned into movies. 

Years ago, when it was harder to take pictures – the cameras were heavier, you had to sprocket in the film, you were unable to “correct” shots you are unhappy with afterwards, you kept losing the strap – I learned the simple secret to taking quality photographs.

You throw out the bad ones.

Same thing with the improvisational comedy of “The Trip” movies.  You take six hours of television material, winnow it down to a third of that length, and then suddenly in the movie, “Every one is a winner!”

(The excluded stuff littering the cutting room floor, going, “Comedy’s only a matter of opinion, you know.”)

Of the three incarnations of “The Trip” – wait.  Let me first make this comment.

You make a TV series where you go to Five-Star restaurants, sampling their magnificent cuisine.  Which I am sure they did not have to pay for, or leave a tip even.  In fact, they were probably paid handsomely to do the TV series.  Then, without further time or involvement on your part, edited versions of those TV shows are transformed into movies, which you are then paid for once again. 

Are these guys geniuses, or what?  They probably got free gas for the car!

Okay, where was I after that envious harangue?  Oh, yeah.

Of the three incarnations of “The Trip” movies – the first one set in Northern England, the second, in Italy, and the third outing in Spain – I enjoyed this last offering the least because in the first two movies – and I have never said this before when distinguishing movies – I liked the food better.

Apparently, a lot of haute Spanish cuisine includes crustaceans and other anemones culled from the bottom of the sea, which, for reasons never clearly delineated to me, the Old Testament insistently frowns upon Jews eating.  Plus, the prepared delicacies, despite what they experienced in the kitchen, appear like, at any moment, they could slither resuscitatedly off of the plate.

What I was then left with, in terms of my appreciation of the Trip to Spain was the impressive inventiveness of the improvised comedy.


Each of us has his or her own “Limit of Endurance” when it comes to dueling imitations of Roger Moore, as well as of Michael Caine, at various stages of his career, both of which Coogan and Brydon are remarkably adept at.  (Though they may be seriously dating themselves in their mimical selections, and dating me in the process, because I know exactly who they are “doing.”)

Because they were visiting Spain, which for a time was dominated by the Moors, the mere mention of the word “Moors” triggers an unsolicited barrage of Roger Moore imitations.  Though the two comedians consistently nail the actor’s “casual insouciance” – after a while, they venture perilously close to “Enough, already!”   Although “tediously annoying” may have actually been the point.  The thing is, I am not at all interested in that point.  Not to mention, amused.

Compensation arrives, however, courtesy of other inspired comedy imaginings.  Of which, I shall happily recount two:

Since Spain is the historic home of the Spanish Inquisition, the two comedians do a routine, based on the lesser appreciated attribute of “The Rack”, which is that, while you were unquestionably being tortured, you were concomitantly also being made taller.

Coogan and Brydon turn the hideous “Rack Experience” into a typical “Game Show”, in which the unctuous compere (host) asks the contestant, “You have now reached the ‘Five-foot-nine’ plateau.  Would you like to go for ‘Five-nine-and-a-half?’”  And the contestant enthusiastically shouts, “Yes!”

The other bit – this one teeters on the border of bad taste – as if “The Rack” material doesn’t – but I have to admit, it still made me laugh.  In some “I no longer remember” context, Brydon pretends to be hard of hearing, and Coogan, trying to drive his “mate” bonkers, moves his lips without actually saying anything while simultaneously emitting a screeching, high-pitched, “EEEEEEEE” sound, his “hard of hearing” companion, struggling to eliminate the “feedback” from his defective “hearing aid.”

If such comedy silliness is not exactly your cup of tea, Trip to Spain also includes magnificent landscapes, Iberian “beach babes” and garlicky sanddabs.  (Which I myself have never tasted but the culinary travelers went, “Mmmm.”)

Watching gifted comedians working “off the top of their heads” – there is nothing better when it’s good.  Jonathan Winters.  Robin Williams.  Eddie Izzard.  And Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon, with the help of assiduous editing. 

At its best, Trip to Spain is as rewarding as its predecessors.

It’s just that I think they eat Nemo.

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