The phrase "it is what it is" is a plague on the English language. But in the case of The Trip to Italy, a sequel to 2010's The Trip, the intrinsic nature of the film—established by its predecessor and the BBC miniseries from whence it is derived—remains unshifted, and wishing the picture to deviate from its very being is a futile desire indeed. If it were a Talking Heads album, it might be called More Scenes About Old Buildings, Midlife Crises, Celebrity Impersonations and Food. Like in the first one, comedians Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon, playing barely fictionalized versions of themselves, travel across a photogenic European locale (guess which one) and sample local cuisine for a magazine article, all as a setup for improvised riffs on kumquats, Michael Bublé, movie sequels (naturally) and, of course, who does the better Michael Caine impersonation. Other than moving from the British countryside to the Italian coastline and swapping ABBA for Alanis Morissette in the rental car's CD player, it's a more egregious Xerox of the original than The Hangover Part II. But who'd want it to be anything else? The first Trip was one of the best comedies of the past few years because it put complete faith in the chemistry of its stars, and if the formula ain't broke, why give it a plot? If returns have diminished at all, it's because we now expect these dueling celebrity impressions, but still: Give me two hours of nothing but Coogan and Brydon trading Michael Caines (and Al Pacinos, and Anthony Hopkinses, and Tom Hardy's Banes), and you can have my $10. Again, there's an undercurrent of melancholy about aging, which here manifests itselfin a one-night stand, a dream sequence and a bout of compulsive impersonations at the ruins of Pompeii. Again, director Michael Winterbottom's only apparent role is to frame the food porn and sumptuous location photography. And again, it works. It is what it is, and that is all it needs to be.
Critic's Grade: B+
SEE IT: The Trip to Italy opens Friday at Cinema 21.