‘The Trip’ has some fun pit stops, but needs trimming

The battle in movies between art and commerce is long, bloody and a long way from over.

It's the subject of many films, often made by wizened, exasperated artists - Woody Allen's "Hollywood Ending," Robert Altman's "The Player."

Michael Winterbottom's "The Trip" is about another, less-celebrated rivalry in movies - the one between art and entertainment, embodied here by Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon.

They're essentially playing themselves - Coogan the former comedian who wants to be a serious actor, Brydon the popular comic and impressionist who wants to be a popular comic and impressionist.

In "The Trip" they tour the British countryside, and as they bop from B&B to B&B, Coogan's pretensions to art and Brydon's contentment with entertainment become more pronounced - Coogan is always on the phone with his agents, turning down a lowbrow TV series to pursue a prestigious independent film.

Brydon, for his part, is pursuing laughs. He's entertaining the waiters and fellow diners, signing autographs, charming the hotel staff.

Slowly, surely, the adulation drives Coogan crazy. He never says it overtly, but you can see exasperation in his face: Why isn't there more sympathy with my struggle to make great art?

Why are you laughing so hard at Brydon's umpteenth Michael Caine impersonation?

Well, because it's pee-your-pants funny. There is an already legendary scene in "The Trip" of Brydon and Coogan squaring off over dinner to see who can do the best Caine.

They're both excellent, but what makes the scene so good - what makes it art - is the way it illustrates the movie's themes. Brydon is trying to capture Caine's voice, his mannerisms. He's a mimic. Coogan is trying to get the "essence" of Caine. He's an artist.

It's clever, it's brilliant and it's also about halfway through "The Trip." The movie is . . . leisurely. Winterbottom takes what is essentially a two-character piece - "My Road Trip With Andre" - and lets it run for 130 minutes. The movie is cut down from a six-hour British TV series, but needs to be cut a good deal more.

We eventually get to the epilogue, wherein the entertainer and artist return to their homes. There, Brydon is as content as he is elsewhere in life - his wife and son greet him enthusiastically. Coogan is restless, rootless, unhappy, alone.

That may be glib, but it also seems fair.

You don't become an artist to be happy, or employed, or well-compensated.

But you can still do a pretty good Michael Caine.

The Trip

Directed by Michael Winterbottom. With Margo Stilley, Claire Keelan, Rob Brydon, Steve Coogan. Distributed by IFC Films.

Running time: 1 hours, 47 minutes.

Parent's guide: Unrated ().