Political satire is a bitch to pull off. Kubrick's Dr. Strangelove set the bar high in 1964. But damned if In the Loop doesn't at least nip at its skirts. Best of all, this ink-black comedy of war and how to stop worrying and love the spin is devilishly clever. The gifted British writer-director Armando Iannucci, whose BBC series The Thick of It is the spark for the film, keeps the dialogue coming fast and furiously funny.
The time is just before the invasion of Iraq. The governments of Britain and the U.S. are in a fever. On Downing Street — a spin on The Office (Ricky Gervais edition, complete with handheld cameras) — the PM's caffeinated director of communications, Malcolm Tucker (Peter Capaldi), is verbally abusing Simon Foster (Tom Hollander), a twit minister who has just done interviews claiming support for the U.S. in a war that he declares "unforeseeable." The brilliant Capaldi turns cursing into performance art, spewing streams of invective that would make David Mamet blush.
Somehow the idiot Simon winds up in D.C. with two handlers (Chris Addison and Gina McKee), who can't stop him from inserting foot in mouth. Simon gets caught in the crossfire of a State Department hawk (David Rasche) and a dove of a general (a slyly hilarious James Gandolfini), with an ex-lover (a priceless Mimi Kennedy) in the diplomatic corps. The dangerous incompetence of these warring factions will strike you as more than familiar. That's why the laughs stick in the throat. But laugh you will, loud and often. In the Loop deserves to be a sleeper hit. The whole cast is stellar. And it proves that smart and funny can exist in the same movie, even in summer.