By Jeff Meyers

You have to reach back pretty far to find good big-screen political satire. There was a brief shining moment in the '90s when Bulworth, Bob Roberts and Wag the Dog signaled sharp silver-screen rebuttals to the political lunacy that runs rampant in our country. Leave it to Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld to drain the life from the genre by becoming living, breathing parodies of responsible politics. What satire could top their brazen and bald-faced hypocrisy and lies?

Enter UK writer-director Armando Iannucci. Taking his cue from The Office, Iannucci delivers a deliciously corrosive backstage view of the Iraq War years, as Brits and Yanks danced around what they knew was a foregone conclusion of their own making. Firing off jokes, insults and F-bombs with giddy aplomb, his bitter and twisted In the Loop is a whirlwind assault on the Machiavellian double-dealings, egotistical chest-thumping and dim-witted scheming of political middle managers who care less about ideology and ethics and more about jockeying for position.

Low-level cabinet minister Simon Foster (Tom Hollander) deviates from the party line during a radio interview and offers the cryptic comment, "War is unforeseeable," setting off a political shitstorm. On the home front, the prime minister's chief policy strategist (a gleefully profane Peter Capaldi) goes into damage-control mode while the US assistant secretary of diplomacy (Mimi Kennedy) sees an opportunity to use Foster to end-run a Rumsfeldian State Department head (David Rasche) who is holding secret war meetings. With the aid of a dovish general (James Gandolfini), she hopes to thwart the rush to war. Foster, clearly out of his league and saddled with a blundering new assistant (Chris Addison), just struggles to keep his job.

It's astute stuff filled with the kind of snarling, black-hearted cynicism that convinces you this is actually how politics works. And still, In the Loop manages to be deliriously funny—in that very dry, British way. Though the lines fly by at a furious, accented clip, the ones you catch are inevitably quotable, with the best exchanges involving Capaldi's frothing Scotsman. He's a brilliantly foul-mouthed force of nature who berates everyone he encounters and ends phone calls with a nasty "Fuckety-bye." The rest of the cast is similarly excellent, with the American actors forced to remain as straight-faced and committed as the Brits to their relentlessly despicable characters.

As In the Loop's raggedy plot gets more cleverly convoluted, Iannucci actually deflates the humor, wrapping things up on a low-key sour note that lacks drama or comic fanfare. Which is, I suppose, the inevitable truth of leaders who smother the interests of a nation for personal gain. After all, didn't Bush and company slip quietly out the back door after laying waste to truth, justice and the American way?

In The Loop
Directed by Armando Iannucci
With Peter Capaldi, Tom Hollander, James Gandolfini, Mimi Kennedy, David Rasche and Chris Addison

106 min.