Spin City: ‘In The Loop’ Finds The Black Humor On The Road To War


“Where d’ya think you are, in some f---ing  Regency costume drama?” snarls Peter Capaldi, the rapidly twirling, rabidly frothing spin-doctor at the center of In the Loop’s storm. No worries – there’s absolutely no mistaking In the Loop for a well-behaved Jane Austen comedy of manners, zombies or no. Instead, the searingly funny and frighteningly close to home In the Loop comes clad in the pitch-black-humored, corrosive satire of Jonathan Swift’s A Modest Proposal and Barry Levinson's Wag the Dog. Here director-writer Armando Iannucci manages to make the leap from the small screen – where he wrote and directed BAFTA-winning shows like I’m Alan Partridge -- to the silver, with this extended riff on his BBC TV series, The Thick of It, a faux inside-baseball, inside-the-beltway-and-10-Downing-Street stab at political brinksmanship and the merry, merciless road to war.

What happens when a hapless career politician, the British Secretary of State for International Development Simon Foster (Tom Hollander of Pride and Prejudice, The Soloist) – who’s more accustomed to playing the voiceless “meat in the room” than making major policy decisions -- strays from the official government script? Foster babbles himself into deep political doo-doo regarding a “fictional” Middle East skirmish, thanks to choice bits of nonsense like, “To walk the road of peace, sometimes we have to be ready to climb the mountain of conflict.” Little does the official realize that his bumbling phrase-making would turn into a backing of war, much to the dismay (and later delight) of the British PM’s primo spin-doc Malcolm Tucker (Capaldi), who later describes Foster’s mountain crack as “Nazi Julie Andrews.” Drawn into the rush to war alongside his equally bewildered, wildly improvising newbie assistant (Chris Addison), Foster must somehow save face with DC politicos like US General Miller (James Gandolfini of The Sopranos) and try in vain to keep the peace, as overcooked intel emerges (giving  off the strong odor of those real-life, ever-so-flawed rumors of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction).

Though the profanity-steeped dialogue can be unrelenting and at times ring a tad contrived, almost all the players here are remarkably good – and often laugh-out-loud hilarious. The highest honors, however, must go to Capaldi and his incandescently peeved Scotsman, who finds more creative ways to express his displeasure, using multiple mentions of lubricated horse penises and threats of severe bodily harm, than the editors of the OED would ever imagine. There’s sex in Tucker’s grimy verbal violence – in contrast to the spin-challenged Foster – making him the antihero victor, despite his utter moral bankruptcy, in this war of words, and Capaldi the angriest Scot on film since Braveheart.

In the Loop opens Friday, July 24, at Landmark Theatre’s Embarcadero Center Cinema, SF. (415) 267-4893. For more show times and more information, go to www.landmarktheatres.com.

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