Is this what comedy is in Britain? No wonder they don’t think we’re funny. Although, judging by In The Loop, we do seem to have the same basic programming: repeat the same joke incessantly until somebody gets angry. Or, to change it up a little, start out with one or two people angry already. The guy in front of me certainly thought the barrage of pedestrian and profanity-laced insults spit out by Malcolm Tucker (Peter Capaldi) were comic genius. But maybe he was British. I don ‘t know, I didn’t talk to him. Why would I talk to him? He thought this movie was funny. We clearly weren’t going to get along.
It’s a little bit dangerous saying you didn’t think this “brilliant satire” of the state of politics today was anything but hilarious. Apparently, that sounds as if you’re saying you didn’t get it. But there’s no way to not get In the Loop. Even if you manage to miss it the first few times, there are so many more opportunities to hear Malcolm call someone by the name of a somewhat comparable figure in popular culture (or maybe a clever combination of two of them!) or watch Linton (David Rasche) forget someone’s name (but not care!) or suffer through another awkward public embarrassment Simon (Tom Hollander) has walked into (or been led into by those darned politicos.) There’s a sense that by virtue of being British, the filmmakers are automatically smarter than us and if we don’t laugh with them, they’re going to be laughing at us.
Ratcheting up that sense of elitism is the nature of the political material. It’s purposely short on specifics (because they can’t possibly matter in the actual world), but it handles that necessity more adroitly than other entities trapped within the same imagined guidelines (i.e. 24, anything Aaron Sorkin does.) Still, except for the last second manipulating by mastermind Malcolm, it’s all a bunch of nonsense. And yes, maybe that’s the point, that none of it matters anyway, but that is not the sentiment we’re led to glean from the rest of the movie. So much of the supposed comedy comes out of the idea that it’s these idiot egomaniacs that are running our lives. So if what they’re talking (and talking and talking) about has no impact, then why is it funny that these idiot egomaniacs are in charge of it?
It’s not without bright spots. Lieutenant General George Miller (James Gandolfini) is a walking set up, but undercuts that by delivering his lines with affable cynicism. Simon Foster is a Michael Scott clone, but his dubious nature seems perfectly normal under the circumstances and in one of the best scenes, we get to see him be good at (at least one aspect of) his job (which is why he is more Michael Scott than David Brent, despite the nationalistic affiliation.) And there is the climax consisting of a hastily concocted, but ultimately satisfying maneuver that wraps up (some of) the various threads pulled throughout.
However, that piece of clever gamesmanship comes from a character that’s chiefly despicable throughout the rest of the movie. Not that there are many present who aren’t, so the choices are limited, but why in the world would we want this guy to be the one to win [and that is how we’re supposed to take it, as a win (things go back to normal, even if we’re still probably going to war with whoever it is)] when all he’s done is scream insults at people we like at least a little more than we do him? This may have to do with Malcolm Tucker being the one holdover character from the BBC series The Thick Of It from which this movie is an offshoot. But that’s hardly an excuse.