[24 July 2009]
Chicago Tribune (MCT)
Am I the only one who thinks people don’t talk fast enough in comedies?
We only have one life to live! Speed ‘er up, there, champ! If it were up to me, a hit movie such as “The Hangover” wouldn’t wander around, slack-jawed, in between plot developments: The characters would hammer on each other verbally as if there were something at stake.
Also, wit: Actual wit — some cleverness to detonate the insults — never hurts.
Here’s a heads-up to anyone who craves rapidfire, foul-mouthed invective and scabrous political satire, at least when they’re not out aiding charitable causes. The British comedy “In the Loop,” not for the faint of heart or the slow of tongue, opens July 24, with video-on-demand availability via the Independent Film Channel July 29. It is exhilaratingly nasty, but quick on its feet — a real tonic.
Shot in the breathless verite style of “The Office,” the film was directed and co-written by Armando Iannucci, whose BBC series “The Thick of It,” debuting in 2005, introduced the character of Malcolm Tucker, the bile-spewing communications director for the British prime minister. “In the Loop” showcases Peter Capaldi as Tucker, the real dark lord. The film surrounds this malignant firecracker with a host of fine actors, including Tom Hollander as an inept Cabinet minister whose bumbling platitudes concerning the imminent Mideast war (“to walk the road of peace, sometimes we need to be ready to climb ... the mountain of conflict”) transform him into an unlikely international power broker. The Americans in the cast include James Gandolfini as a Pentagon general who doesn’t like his administration’s rush to war, David Rasche as a puffed-up Donald Rumsfeld-style blowhard and Mimi Kennedy as the assistant U.S. secretary of state, who bleeds from the gums at inopportune moments.
Iannucci, who worked with Steve Coogan on the “Alan Partridge” mockumentary series in England, wrote “In the Loop” with Jesse Armstrong, Simon Blackwell and Ian Martin. (Tony Roche receives an “additional dialogue” credit.) Some of the doublespeak sounds like Orwell on a bender, as when Hollander’s character, mulling a resignation, is told by a subordinate: “What’s actually brave about doing the right thing? Nothing. Doing the wrong thing is braver, in a way, isn’t it?”
The trick, Iannucci said by phone the other day, was a carefully plotted outline, followed by a first draft thrown together “really, really quickly. I wanted to get that sense of energy and confusion and nervousness.”
He sees it as a cynical antidote to “The West Wing” (though by American broadcast television standards, at least, everybody on “The West Wing” talked quickly on the way to the next moral lesson). “In the U.K.,” says Iannucci, a Scottish native like Capaldi, “I think we have a default setting about politicians. We assume they’re all slightly morally bankrupt. We’re naturally cynical about the process. If I portrayed politicians as nobly as they’re portrayed on ‘The West Wing,’ we’d be laughed at.”
On the other hand: Chicago inspired both the Ben Hecht/Charles MacArthur newspaper melodrama “The Front Page” and David Mamet’s “Glengarry Glen Ross.” It’s always scoundrel time on our clocks.
Iannucci took inspiration from such cable TV icons as “The Larry Sanders Show” and, more recently, Ari Gold on “Entourage.” Further back? The polestars of motormouth lunacy: the 1940 classic “His Girl Friday,” director Howard Hawks’ remake of “The Front Page” starring Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell, along with the complete works of Preston Sturges.
“In the Loop,” its director says, is “fundamentally a screwball comedy, a lot of fasttalking characters at each other’s throats. You don’t really see that in comedy anymore. Everything’s slightly more languid now.”