Sunday, December 13, 2009

"In The Loop": you didn't hear about the smartest comedy of the year

I have long said that without Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, I would not have been able to keep my sanity from the 2000 Presidential elections to, well, now.

That is the power of political and social satire - aside from illuminating absurdity and hypocrisy of our society and political leaders, satire helps us cope with things we ultimately do not have much luck of changing.

Case in point - the Iraq war. In the run-up to invasion in 2003, it seemed pretty clear that the presence of "WMDs" was highly questionable, the imminent threat of Iraq to the rest of the world was negligible, and the link between Iraq, Saddam, and the New York terrorist attacks was non-existent. Yet, due to fear-mongering and the "you're with us or against us" mentality, we were all dragged inexorably into a conflict without clear goals, without a plan for success, and with a blank check.

Almost seven years later, when the absurd bravado, from using Philip Glass' score from "The Hours" to highlight bombing footage to our Commander-In-Chief playing Dress Up has subsided, one can't help but scratch their head over the enormous financial burden and cost of human life in Iraq. How did we let ourselves get wrapped up in such a conflict?

Stepping up to the satire plate is British helmer Armando Iannucci, whose credits "Daily Show" forerunner "The Day Today", and the series "The Thick of It", which served as a blueprint for "In The Loop".

The film begins in London, where government employees are growing increasingly nervous about the US hinting at the invasion of an unnamed Middle Eastern nation. The bumbling minister for international development, Simon Foster (Tom Hollander, the British villain from the two "Pirates" sequels), makes a seemingly innocuous comment about the "war on preventable diseases" during a radio interview. The reporter takes the quote out of context, and then asks his opinion of the possible US military intervention, to which Foster replies that personally, he believes war is "unforeseeable".

This is not the official British stance on the US war, which is basically to wait and see what the US ultimately decides. On damage control is Malcolm Tucker (Peter Capaldi, reprising his role from "The Thick of It"), the Minister's Director of Communications, who tries to manage the growing political storm as best he can with his best weapon - a delightfully creative foul mouth.

Foster can't keep his mouth shut, and Tucker can't keep up with the snowballing push for war. Caught in the mix are British and American diplomats, James Gandolfini as an armchair general, and all their ladder-climbing assistants. Everyone is too ambitious to step back from a confrontation, too stupid for their own good, and too cowardly to take a stand. Minutes from committee meetings are editable as a record of what was intended to be said, military intelligence can be modified as necessary, and war is neither inevitable nor ...evitable. The implications are as hilarious as they are horrifying.

"In The Loop" packs a lot into an hour and forty minutes, and for viewers able to keep up with the pace and track of the characters, it is a vulgar, hysterical, infuriating tale about our government, where, according to the puzzling words of the Assistant Secretary of State, "in the land of truth, the man with one fact is king".

TOO MUCH: The film was edited from a 4-hour cut made from a shooting script almost 250 pages long. There's no fat to be found.

COULD HAVE USED MORE: I would have loved a few more insults from Malcolm. I can't wait for the opportunity to threaten someone with shoving so much cotton roll down their throats that it comes out their ass like they're a fucking Playboy bunny.

FILM SNOB NOTE: Consultants were brought in to make sure the cursing was vulgar and creative enough for the film. A 2006 pilot for an American spin-off of "The Thick of It" was a disaster, but there are currently rumors of HBO bringing Iannucci stateside for a second shot at adaptation. collected 95% positive reviews for "In The Loop" - and it's box office gross in the US was $2.2 million. In comparison, "Old Dogs" has 5% positive reviews, and has earned over $33 million domestically. Steve Coogan has too much fun improvising in a minor role as one of Foster's constituents.

IHYFM RATING: FIVE out of FIVE MEHS. This is a wildly clever and consistently funny comedy that is a must-see when it comes out on DVD in the US this January.

IF YOU SAID THIS WAS YOUR FAVORITE MOVIE, I'D THINK: You're my kind of film, comedy, and satire snob.

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