Illustration from The Slant Book by Peter Newell, 1910
Forgive me for starting this little ramble like an old-school Ain't It Cool News movie review (I'm try to build a tenuous parallel here to pad a review of a movie that I'm having a hard time writing about.) On the way to the theater on Saturday night, my special lady friend and I passed some skeevy little shop that had a couple patio chairs out in front of it - a grubby young dude was sleeping (or passed out) in one of the chairs. As we approached, the shop's dreadlocked proprietor came out and started to shout at and jostle this guy, telling him that the chairs aren't for homeless drunks to sleep in (raising the obvious question - what ARE the chairs there for?) The guy in the chair was completely non-responsive.
The shop-keep was growing progressively more frustrated and animated, which I found quite amusing right up to the point where he tipped the man out of the chair. The passed-out man collapsed forward in sitting position and landed forehead-first on the sidewalk with a loud crack. He let out a pitiful little groan and rolled over slowly. A couple passersby stopped to see if they could help (the guy from the shop looked a little embarrassed), so we kept walking - we should have stopped to help too, but we were late for our movie. We enjoyed Armando Iannucci's new comedy, In the Loop and, walking back to our car afterward, we ran into the guy we'd seen hit the sidewalk a couple hours earlier. He was standing in the doorway of the same shop, eating a slice of pizza, and he gave me a big smile and a thumbs-up as we passed.
In the Loop is a very modern and very British movie, but it's a great comedy for an American audience that likes a bit of a challenge. Director Iannucci has had a series of semi-successful shows on the BBC in the UK, but he's been completely under the radar to most Americans until now. In the Loop is an extension of a frenetic, foul-mouthed political TV comedy that Iannucci has been making since 2005 called The Thick of It. That show uses a variety of colorful and profane characters to illustrate the quiddities of UK bureaucracy and petty squabbling found in British government. In the Loop takes this approach to political comedy (and some of the show's key players) and applies them to an entirely fictional scenario in which the US and UK governments are contemplating a military intervention in the Middle East.
The brilliant cast revolves primarily around the film's "villian", the ruthless Malcolm Tucker, played by Peter Capaldi. Tucker is the UK's Director of Communications, and he is willing to manipulate UK government ministers (Tom Hollander), US State Department big-shots (Mimi Kennedy and David Rasche), and US military leaders (James Gandolfini) to get to the result the Prime Minister wants. Tucker is also a wielder of one of the most creatively foul mouths ever gifted to mankind, and every second word out of his mouth is one that would get you slapped across the face at Sunday dinner. Tucker sets the pace, but the entire cast keeps up with an Altman-style dialogue pacing that has a joke-per-minute ratio that will baffle even dedicated followers of fast-moving US comedies like 30 Rock.
In the Loop is a funny in an awkward, high-energy way, like a store-owner growing increasingly frustrated with a sleeping vagrant. But, like that scenario, In the Loop has its tipping-out-of-the-chair moment as it draws to its finale. I don't want to spoil the ending for anyone, but it involves a shift in tone that is worth being aware of in advance. It was intentionally jarring, though, and didn't sour the overall experience for me.
In the Loop is not entry-level comedy for American audiences - the copious creative swearing may be a problem for some, and the plot is easier to follow if you know a little about how British government works. For instance, some people might be confused that a cabinet-level Minister has a home jurisdiction where he is responsible for very mundane governmental issues. But it is a comedy with enough good jokes that it merits two viewings if you want to catch the jokes you missed while laughing. Basically, like the guy who hit the sidewalk, I'm giving this one a big thumbs-up.
"The International Language of Screaming" by Super Furry Animals