The Trip: Stuck in a Car with Steve Coogan 

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The Trip
Directed by Michael Winterbottom

Whittled down from a six-episode half-hour series on BBC2, Michael Winterbottom's The Trip finds Steve Coogan playing, with little enthusiasm, the not terribly interesting character of sullen Steve Coogan. The premise, loose but unexploited, is a cushy restaurant tour of the Lake District and environs for a newspaper piece. Special correspondent Coogan, who seems to be flirting with Chevy Chase purgatory or at least the persona thereof, recruits as last-minute travel-buddy Rob Brydon, a British TV actor in the odd twilight position of enacting an in-joke as family-man underdog (though his profile is probably lesser unknown here than Coogan's personal woes).

A slapped-together mix of impersonation-heavy oneupmanship, weak-tea playful sniping, food porn, and sad-clown subplotting about Coogan's gf, the result is not much better than a travel show, with its comic aspirations barely beyond the pretend antagonism of a talk-show host and a regular guest. Despite the benefits much-ballyhooed about television's stretching room, Winterbottom's best-of (or, more likely, more translatable) reduction of his original displays surprisingly little ingenuity in improvisation or nimbleness in the moment. The pair's dueling impersonations over meals try to have it both ways by deconstructing the cliché aspects of Michael Caine or Al Pacino impressions but ultimately echo any interminable car trip.

The lack of energy to Coogan's efforts says more than "Steve Coogan"'s foregrounded loneliness (cellphone calls home in the deserted outdoors) or general celebr-anomie (an offer of cocaine provides a rare frisson). But as with many Winterbottom movies, that essentially means you end up filling in the blanks, and though The Trip is not without its entertaining riffs (and does not feel as self-indulgent as it might sound), its lightness feels lazy rather than laid-back.

Opens June 10

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