It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, etc. World — ‘In the Loop’ introduces one of Britain’s best satirists

Armando Iannucci’s bitter and barbed satire “In the Loop” presents global politics — in particular Washington and some pokey little failed empire called Britain — as a continuation of high school culture. There are bullies, cliques, pranks, bad behavior, badder behavior and worse behavior. There are egos to be stroked and personalities to be torpedoed. By the end, we come to feel that while Iannucci’s vision may be jaded, he may be closest to the truth.

He’s also a deft and clever wordsmith, and “In the Loop” — which features some of the characters in his BBC series “The Thick of It” — is zipitty-spit 90 minutes of hilarious and profane dialogue. This film will probably be many Americans’ first exposure to the Scotsman’s writing, but since the early 1990s, Iannucci has penned some of the UK’s greatest television and radio comedy, starting with “On the Hour” and “The Day Today,” precursors in tone and style to the sharp satire of “The Daily Show” and “The Colbert Report” on this side of the pond.

In one of those “Day Today” episodes, Iannucci and his team featured a Jeremy Paxman-style newsman goading two foreign ministers into declaring war on each other, the resulting conflict providing great relief for the newscast in their desperate need to fill airtime. (Search for it on YouTube under “day today war”).

“In the Loop” takes that same idea and reinterprets it as political farce, as the stray vocabulary of a junior Prime Minister, Simon Foster (Tom Hollander) ignites a war of apologies, recriminations and, finally, conflict. Foster calls a war between the U.S. and the Middle East “unforeseeable,” and the slip up lands him on the front pages. It also incurs the foaming wrath of the Prime Minister’s director of communications, Malcolm Tucker (the amazing Peter Capaldi), who arrives to tear Foster a new one and keeps tearing.

Meanwhile, Foster has been contacted by U.S. Assistant Secretary for Diplomacy Karen Clarke (Mimi Kennedy), who wants to use him to discover a secret war committee run by Linton Barwick (David Rasche). And so Foster arrives in D.C. with stars in his eyes — it’s like a trip to Disneyland for world politicians, especially as Foster gets to escape his constituents and their petty complaints. (One of them, played by “Day Today” alum Steve Coogan, steals every one of his scenes.)

Where Whitehall politics is seen as one endless tirade from headmaster-like superiors, the Beltway comes across as a series of afterschool clubs. Karen wants to get on Linton’s committee not because she has anything to say about war, but because she can’t stand the thought of being locked out of it.

The cast is stellar throughout. James Gandolfini will be the only recognizable face to American audiences, and sinks his teeth into the very palatable dialogue (a relief after some pretty dreary post-“Sopranos” roles). David Rasche’s spot-on channeling of Donald Rumsfeld is frightening (and very funny), and the surrounding cast of interns and assistants are all stories in themselves.

But the core to the film is Peter Capaldi’s blistering, bulging vein performance. Awash in some of the most startling, clever, and foul language committed to film, Capaldi not only makes the F-word sing, he treats it like Mozart treats a melody. “In the Loop” is divine madness — don’t miss it.

Starring: Peter Capaldi, Tom Hollander, James Galdolfini, Mimi Kennedy
Length: 106 minutes
Playing at: UCSB’s Campbell Hall, 7:30 p.m. Tuesday

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