Boiled down from a six-part BBC TV series, "The Trip" reunites comics Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon ("Tristram Shandy"), puts them on the road to England's Lake District playing mildly altered versions of themselves, and lets their brilliance as impressionists run free. The premise: Coogan has landed the plum assignment of reviewing cutting-edge restaurants in the north of the country and, when his American girlfriend bails, has to resort to taking the irritatingly chipper and domestically contented Brydon along instead. Coogan's perpetual angst about his love-life career is only aggravated by the blissed-out Brydon, who continually fuels Coogan's always civilized but simmering infuriation.

Any jokes about English food are misplaced -- what we see are marvels of edible architecture, and everything looks delicious. The rolling joke is that the two travelers are so busy engaging in one-upmanship, with Coogan whining, and Brydon channeling Al Pacino, Woody Allen and Sean Connery, that the food never gets mentioned. Also, Brydon orders scallops at virtually every meal, which becomes its own joke.

What "The Trip" proves, other than that its two stars are brilliant, hilarious mimics (their dueling Michael Caines can be seen on YouTube), is that Michael Winterbottom is a style-free director. Having produced such relatively grim fare as "Welcome to Sarajevo," "A Mighty Heart" and "The Killer Inside Me," he turns around and lets Coogan and Brydon loose, and the result is a comedy classic.

Granted, there's a bit of wheel-spinning as the two make their way across poetic-historic England, with Coogan bedding the most beautiful women they meet (stars must have these kinds of plot points written into their contracts). However, when "The Trip" is being good, it's very, very good, and there isn't a funnier movie out there.

PLOT Steve Coogan, given the incongruous assignment of reviewing northern English restaurants, takes along fellow comedian Rob Brydon. Unrated (language, drug use, adult content)

CAST Coogan, Brydon, Claire Keelan


PLAYING AT Cinema Arts Centre, Huntington

BOTTOM LINE Rambling but hilarious

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