The Brits' top export?

Comedy 'In the Loop' is quality satire, but needs more wit, less raunch

The British have a particular genius for comedies about the workplace, and the perils of navigating bureaucracy.

We've imported some of our best sitcoms ("The Office") from the U.K., and can watch other fine examples ("Yes, Minister," "Yes, Prime Minister,") on public television.

Hollywood writers love to satirize the absurdity of the industrial-studio system. Across the pond, writers must push their scripts through the echelons of government-run television, where treachery and incompetence take different shapes.

The caustic, barb-strewn British satire "In the Loop" grows out of the popular BBC government send-up "The Think of It," expanded here to cover the run-up to the Iraq war.

Tom Hollander is a numbskull cabinet minister who blunders into a radio-interview comment about western military action being "unforeseeable," an opaque statement that nonetheless breaks the government's official policy of silence.

It's seized upon by pro-war and anti-war factions in the U.K. and in the States - Hollander's character is whisked to Washington, D.C., where a hawkish administration heavy (David Rasch) and his dovish rival (Mimi Kennedy) try to use the empty-headed Hollander to their best advantage.

"In the Loop" has nothing inventive to say about Iraq-war politics. In its better moments, it shows how careerism, power trips and office politics contribute to (or pollute) actual politics. And it's better still at high-volume deployment of zingers (some credited to co-writer-director Armando Iannucci), volleyed about by venal apparatchiks working both sides of the war push.

A Lee Atwater-ish Peter Capaldi gets the most vile, and often the funniest lines. James Gandolfini plays an obstructionist general, but lesser known actors (Anna Chlumsky, Chris Addison, Gina McKee) have sharper, funnier characters.

I wish the movie were more witty, less dirty. "In the Loop" is a little too intoxicated by its own rudeness, and writers are just as funny when they aren't working blue. Some of the movie's pop-culture references are priceless, and it would be fun to review transcripts to see which movie has the better "Harry Potter" riffs - "Loop" or "Funny People."


In the Loop

Directed by Armando Iannucci. With Peter Capaldi, Tom Hollander, Zach Woods, Chris Addison, Mimi Kennedy, Gina McKee, James Gandolfini, David Rasche, Steve Coogan, Anna Chlumsky. Distributed by IFC.

Running time: 1 hours, 46 minutes.

Parent's guide: Unrated ().