If you love crisp, acerbic dialogue delivered with a wink and a nod, you’re going to want to get in the loop with “In the Loop.”

If you love crisp, acerbic dialogue delivered with a wink and a nod, you’re going to want to get in the loop with “In the Loop.”

It’s a modern screwball comedy that talks the bluest blue streak since “The Sopranos” famously went black. And wouldn’t you know it, one of the largest purveyors of these colorful words is none other than Tony Soprano himself, James Gandolfini.

He’s the biggest star in a huge ensemble that compensates for its lack of name recognition with crackling performances that are as venomous as they are droll.

Half the time, you’re not sure if you should laugh or cower in fear as “In the Loop” deftly satirizes the sorry state of American and British politicians who worry more about putting the proper spin on problems rather than solving them.

The prime targets and chief inspiration, of course, are the overconfident, under-qualified members of the Bush and Blair administrations who – armed with foolhardy passion and faulty information – charged headfirst into Iraq with nary a thought about how many lives their whims would cost.

With new leadership now residing on both Downing Street and Pennsylvania Avenue, a significant case could be made that “In the Loop” is arriving about a year too late to matter. And those folks would not only have a point, they’d be right.

Still, at a time when the Hollywood machine conspicuously shies away from any sort of erudite political satire, “In the Loop” is like an oasis in a sea of oft-regurgitated manure.

The reason it works so well is because the writing and the cast are so close to brilliant. You cherish every biting word that slips mellifluously off their tongues. But you like it even more that director Armando Iannucci, who also co-wrote the script, allows his actors the freedom to indulge in the absurdities of their characters.

And what characters they are; all of them bumbling, stumbling, nincompoops, obsessed with feeding their egos and advancing their careers. Iannucci spares them no quarter, painting them as juvenile prigs driven by fear and jealousy.

Exhibit A is Tom Hollander’s finely honed portrayal of an inept bureaucratic appointee named Simon Foster. Like former FEMA boss Michael Brown (remember him from Katrina?), Simon always has that deer-in-the-headlights expression as he cluelessly babbles on through interview after interview using a lot of words but saying nothing.

That doesn’t stop him from making a major gaffe when, during a discussion of dysentery in the third world, Simon suddenly gets a case of diarrhea of the mouth. Asked by a BBC announcer what he thinks the chances are of the U.S. invading an unnamed country in the Middle East, he answers, “unforeseeable.” While that may be a vague term to you and me, it’s cause for an international crisis in the U.S and British state departments.

Thus, the table is set for Iannucci and his team of writers to wield their pens like machetes, slicing and dicing up the people manning the frontlines of international diplomacy.

The twist is that you wouldn’t even want these “peacemakers” directing the local PTA, as they spin first and ask questions later. The actors have great fun with it, too, especially the film’s breakout star, Peter Cappalti, hilarious as the British prime minister’s chief of communications, Malcolm Tucker.

Cappalti tears through the picture like a Tasmanian devil, hurling snarky, often-obscene putdowns at everyone from his immediate underlings to the top dog at the U.S. State Department. You laugh at every one of his tirades while thanking God you’re not on the receiving end. But Cappalti is at his best when Malcolm overextends his bullying to Gandolfini, who plays a peace-loving general itching to launch an assault on his adversary’s perpetually smug face.

The real star, though, is the witty, inventive dialogue delivered in a rat-a-tat-tat cadence that would make the former cast of “The West Wing” jealous. It’s a style requiring impeccable timing and inflection, and everyone in the cast, including former child star Anna Chlumsky (“My Girl”), has it mastered.

The actors also help immeasurably in drawing attention away from the film’s woeful lack of visual style. Shot like an episode of “The Office” in bland, cubicle- filled rooms that underscore the tediousness of being a government drone, Iannucci tries unsuccessfully to liven it up with handheld digital cameras and quick-cut edits.

That blandness is likely a byproduct of having spent most of his life working in television, most notably on the popular BBC political comedy “The Thick of It,” a forerunner to “In the Loop.”

No matter. Iannucci may fail to dazzle the eyes, but he never fails to tantalize the ears.
 
IN THE LOOP (Not rated, but contains adult language and sexual situations.) Cast includes James Gandolfini, Tom Hollander, Anna Chlumsky and Peter Cappalti. Co-written and directed by Armando Iannucci. 3 stars out of 4.

The Patriot Ledger