Coogan has been enlisted by The Observer to go around to a number of fine restaurants and review the dining experience. His original plan was to bring Mischa (Margo Stilley), a foodie and his current girlfriend, in order to smooth out a few wrinkles in their relationship, but she's off in America looking for work. Having exhausted all other options, Coogan turns to Brydon, his sort-of-friend (perhaps from their previous film Tristram Shandy -- no sign of whether the two Winterbottom films inhabit the same pseudo-reality), who agrees. The duo load their luggage into a Range Rover and set off across the country for a week of Brydon annoying Coogan, over the course of many courses.
The heart of the film is the dinner discussion between the two actors, and it is very, very funny. The pair's dueling Michael Caines and Woody Allens have made the viral rounds, but the film holds at least three more wonderful discussions: about why cinematic underdog armies always leave at daybreak (as opposed to "about 9:30"), theoretical eulogizing (both express disappointment that Brydon will be too dead to do his trademark "Man in a Box" routine at his wake), and whether one would allow their child to become temporarily sick in order to win an award (an Oscar maybe, but not a BAFTA). The effectiveness of these conversations is two-fold, giving the audience insight onto the nature of a comedy, and an effective peek at the philosophical beliefs and neuroses of the characterized version of both actors (Brydon more the former than the latter). Food nuts may be a little disappointed that the pair's dining isn't really spotlighted (you hear and see what the two order, but rarely get any commentary on it), but prioritizing the comedy over the food is a reasonable sacrifice.
At the same time, Winterbottom strives to turn Coogan into a real character, and it doesn't really take. Coogan calls Mischa during most of the stops, but their uneasy, extremely subtle sparring quickly becomes tedious, and Coogan's other actions over the course of the trip, towards Brydon and towards others, doesn't allow for much sympathy when he's sad or lonely. Winterbottom also shows us Mischa, in shots that are so cramped and limited that it only emphasizes how much little information they provide; if the character is meant to be distant and separated from Coogan, it'd be better if she was merely a voice on the other end of the phone. Alternative options appear: Coogan calls his son, and forms more of a connection in five minutes than Winterbottom musters in twenty with Mischa, and the Observer reporter who organized the trip drops in on one of the stops. Either one of these threads could've been effectively subbed in instead (especially the reporter, who could show up every once in awhile to alter Coogan and Brydon's dynamic, and be conveniently "working" or planning otherwise).
The combination of Winterbottom's directorial style further complicates the tone of Coogan's character. Although the film doesn't need to be as overtly exaggerated as Coogan's two neurotic dream sequences, Coogan plays his acidic character with a level of dryness that's already toeing the line before Winterbottom's icy, emotionless direction adds to the mixture. Clearly, Coogan's caricature of himself is in the same vein as any self-skewering "meta" comedy, but The Trip often completely obscures the line between "truthful" setup and "exaggerated" punchline. Is the viewer meant to sympathize with the film's version of Coogan completely as a film character, or is The Trip a wicked, witty look at the real Coogan, and is it even possible to tell one approach from the other if the viewer doesn't know where one ends and the other begins? In the dinner vignettes, where "motives" don't even come into play, The Trip is very funny, but when the film steps outside these lines, the experience leaves something to be desired.
The Video and Audio
On the whole, it's a toss-up -- I wasn't really moved by the non-deleted scene extras, so perhaps IFC would've been better off trying to configure some sort of branching version that allowed the viewer to select the film or the TV edit. Maybe that would be prohibitively complicated, but I'd certainly take that over the remainder of what was included here.