Brit helmer Michael Winterbottom makes a point of alternating heavy dramatics (JUDE/’96; A MIGHTY HEART/’06) with Pirandello-flavored goofs like TRISTRAM SHANDY: A COCK AND BULL STORY/’05 & this buddy-buddy ‘Two-Actors-in-Search-of-a-Meal’ road-pic. Goof it may be, but it’s a goof with conviction in its cheery pointlessness. Steve Coogan, playing himself as an amusing, if dour, comic actor, accepts a fluke fine-dining writing assignment in the North Country, and asks his insistently chipper pal Rob Brydon to come along since his current girlfriend has just bailed. The boys are a lot more fun for us then they seem to be for each other, jealously parsing the other’s life & career choices by indirectly teasing out old inequities via competitive voice impersonations (Michael Caine, Sean Connery, Michael Caine, David Frost, Michael Caine, Woody Allen &, of course, Michael Caine); vocal ranges; wine tasting technique (alas, only in the deleted scenes); even coveting the better looking entree. At night, Steve hunts up a proper shag while Rob goes for phone sex with the missed missus. Some of this improvised stuff goes nowhere, some is just too British to travel, some is too inside show-bizzy, but more than enough hits. And, slowly, you start noticing that a living breathing, slightly testy (and testing) relationship is coming alive on screen in a manner that scripted buddy/buddy road-trip pics (SIDEWAYS/’04) or indie-art-house fare (OLD JOY/’06) never seem to. Too bad the over-groomed high-end cuisine looks so joyless on those large artfully arranged plates. Such a relief to watch the boys finally dig into a traditional, if rather up-scale, ‘fried’ British breakfast. NOTE: Be sure to catch the hilarious ‘Cunt’ Song in the Deleted Scenes.
SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: For those who keep score, Brydon’s impressive three-octave singing range and his spot-on Hugh Grant impression probably bests Coogan on points. His Grant gets a boost from a faint facial resemblance, but both men . . . ignore Jim Dale’s . . . famous Michael Caine . . . dictum of always . . .speaking three words . . . at a time. It makes all . . . the difference.