If it weren’t for unnecessary sequels, we likely wouldn’t need multiplexes. They are the tentpoles that continue to prop up Hollywood’s dwindling inventory. Which is why I can imagine, in my riper years, sneering at the trailers for “Furious 34,” crankily content in my decision to have skipped the first 33.
“The Trip” franchise has been that rare exception. Launched as a six-episode BBC television series in 2010 that was whittled down into a feature-length movie, this comedy vehicle starring Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon as exaggerated versions of themselves has proven surprisingly durable.
The original focused the hardest on a genuine premise—the two friends, both indefatigably talented British comic actors, embarked on a restaurant tour of Northern England, with Brydon serving as an unlikely food critic for a local publication. Like a lot of buddy movies, the journey was the destination, and the series derived its charm from the duo’s improvisatory charisma. Their famous dueling celebrity impersonations and ego-puncturing repartee blurred the lines between fiction and non, more than filling in for a mostly absent plot.
The cult status of “The Trip” has led the two actors and director Michael Winterbottom to synergize their talents three times hence, with each series-turned-movie growing in pictorial beauty and dramatic consequence. Coogan and Brydon sparred and dined their way through Italy, in 2014, through Spain, in 2017, and now in Greece, which opens in “virtual” theaters today and which has been billed as “the final course.”
There is, indeed, an air of finitude to “The Trip From Greece,” which contains more poignancy than its forbears. Each series, while offering plenty of belly laughs, has been less larksome than the last, and this last installment finds Coogan confronting mortality in a way that had not been breached before.
As in “The Trip to Spain,” which found the rambling friends retracing the steps of romantic poets, their Greek sojourn follows a high-minded itinerary: They’re replicating Odysseus’ journey from ancient Troy (in present-day Turkey) to his home in Ithaca. While it took Homer’s hero a year to complete his travels, Coogan and Brydon do it in a week, in a combination of ferry and Range Rover.
The result is both an enviable travelogue and a paean to platonic male affection. While enjoying artfully plated cuisine from five-star restaurants, submitting to photo shoots on the steps of an ancient theater, or paddling the Caves of Diros, Coogan and Brydon walk—and riff—in the footsteps of giants, their conversational detours landing in places both familiar and fresh. Want to learn more about the word origins of “lesbian” and “marathon”? Ever wanted to hear Don Corleone wax about modern dentistry? Have you considered the homophonic kinship between Greece and the musical “Grease?”
These are just a few of the rapid-fire, referential Easter eggs hidden throughout “The Trip to Greece.” There’s also quite a bit of recycled shtick here—impressions and fallback in-jokes that, the fourth time around, have lost some of their luster. As a change of pace, and an emotional anchor, we learn that Steve’s father is suffering from a major health scare back home, a development that, for a rare instance, finds the sportive funnyman stripped of his jollity, and leaves these two chatterboxes, for once, with nothing to say to each other. A hug, long and tender, speaks more than anything else in this dialogue-rich series.
These versions of Coogan and Brydon have been living a travel writer’s fantasy for four series-turned-movies. The infringement of real life, when properly drained of sentiment and overstatement, feels as welcome as a perfectly cooked lamb chop.
“The Trip to Greece” is available now On Demand, on platforms including Amazon, YouTube, Apple TV, Vudu and more. Amazon Prime subscribers can also catch up on the three previous “Trip” films.