Nicola Dove
Lisa Schwarzbaum
July 27, 2009 AT 04:00 AM EDT

The chattering smarty-pants who ran the U.S. government on The West Wing are slow talkers compared with the motormouthed and hilariously imperfect power elite in the brainy British comedy In the Loop. As in ?The West Wing, public policy, government protocol, and media strategy are at the heart of the matter; the process of diplomacy is as important (and amusing) a source of dramatic energy as the outcome of all those summit meetings and position papers. But the man in charge of this snowballing political mayhem is writer-director Armando Iannucci ?(a crucial collaborator in the comedy of Steve Coogan in his guise as insufferable TV celeb Alan Partridge), so the tone is scads more acerbic than anything that would have been tolerated in the White House of Jed Bartlet and the scripts of Aaron Sorkin. In the Loop invites its audience to think, and presumes a certain love of Monty Python. Not to mention an appreciation of Dr. Strangelove. Consider the movie — an outgrowth of Iannucci’s BBC TV series The Thick of It — an offspring of the great 1980s BBC screwball political comedy series Yes Minister. And consider it a welcome oasis of script literacy in a summer of Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen.

The troubles begin when doltish British government minister Simon Foster (Pirates of the Caribbean‘s Tom Hollander, always good at conveying twittishness) wanders off point during a TV interview, and in so doing nearly commits Her Majesty’s administration to backing a U.S. war in the Middle East. Foster’s fumble sends the prime minister’s apoplectically irritable director of communications, Malcolm Tucker (Peter Capaldi, master of snarl in a Scottish accent), on an erudite, obscenity-laden rampage of ire that doesn’t quit. Foster and Tucker then head ?to Washington, D.C., to meet with their dingbat American counterparts, including a ?ballbusting assistant secretary of state with bleeding gums (Mimi Kennedy), a wily Army general (James Gandolfini), and a State ?Department bigwig (David Rasche) in charge of a secret war committee. Anna Chlumsky does well as a sexy, ambitious aide. And ?let the record reflect that Gandolfini wears a chestful of medals with honor, representing Army bluntness at its most Yank, especially to Brits who think that hyperarticulate banter is the Empire’s gift to peace. A?

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