‘Loop’: Political satire right on target more often than not

  • By Robert Horton Herald Movie Critic
  • Thursday, July 30, 2009 5:22pm
  • LifeGo-See-Do

There should be room right now for a movie that boils down the up-to-date political attitude of “The Daily Show” with the big-screen reach of “Dr. Strangelove.”

“In the Loop” tries to be that. While closer to inspired improv than classic satire, the film still gets seriously funny for a few good stretches.

The story begins in Britain, where a mid-level government minister, played by the excellent Tom Hollander, boo-hiss villain of the “Pirates of the Caribbean” saga, is suddenly in the headlines thanks to an indiscreet comment about whether war in the Middle East is “unforeseeable” — or possibly “foreseeable.”

This leads to a purple-faced verbal demolition from his superior, the prime minister’s communications director, played by Peter Capaldi, in a series of scenes that are downright operatic. This boss-from-hell has turned profanity into an art form, and Capaldi spews it out in a series of hilarious arias.

Having set up this international incident, the movie struggles to follow it up. But Hollander is sent to the U.S. to explain himself to feuding politicos at the State Department, who are Mimi Kennedy and David Rasche, and a peace-minded general played by James Gandolfini.

Thanks to his “Sopranos” profile, Gandolfini is the biggest name in the cast, but he is bested in the Yankee lineup by Kennedy and Rasche, two accomplished and perpetually under-appreciated scene-stealers who really get a chance to shine here.

There’s also a romantic subplot involving a British aide (Chris Addison) and his U.S. counterpart (Anna Chlumsky), as well as sundry supporting folk (including a loopy cameo by Steve Coogan, doing the sort of drive-by appearance an established comedian can get away with — Seth Rogen’s been doing these lately).

The British-American emphasis gives the film a throwbacky Cold War feel, despite the handheld camera and up-to-date material.

“In the Loop” is based on a Brit-TV series called “The Thick of It,” created by the film’s director, Armando Iannucci, and it’s got the immediacy of TV. Its ripped-from-the-headlines quality summons up decent laughs, although it maybe reduces its longevity.

When it comes to immediacy, how can movies compete with Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert? The day after Sarah Palin rendered her resignation speech, Conan O’Brien had William Shatner interpreting the discombobulated text as beat poetry.

There’s nothing wrong with “In the Loop.” But sorry — it already feels dated.

“In the Loop”

British satire about politicos (Peter Capaldi, Tom Hollander) getting mixed up in international diplomatic gaffe. Some nice work from sharp comic performers (James Gandolfini plays a peacenik general) gives this film its appeal, even if its up-to-date material already feels slightly out of date.

Rated: Not rated; probably R for language, subject matter

Showing: Harvard Exit

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