“The Laundromat” is like an enthusiastic high-school teacher — maybe you know the type — who tries to liven up dry material with skits, games and funny costumes. The film’s subject matter could hardly be more urgent: the deep and pervasive corruption of the global financial system, as documented in the 2016 data leak known as the Panama Papers. But the movie, directed by Steven Soderbergh from a screenplay by Scott Z. Burns, conducts its business with brisk, breezy irreverence. It’s a didactic comedy, an earnest lesson in political economy dressed up as a farce.

“The Big Short,” Adam McKay’s 2015 film about the financial crisis that ushered in the Great Recession, is an obvious precedent. Like McKay, Soderbergh and Burns (adapting Jake Bernstein’s book “Secrecy World”) alternate between jaunty, direct-to-camera explanation and vignettes that illustrate relevant concepts and problems. It’s almost literally a textbook approach, when you think about it. All that’s missing are study questions at the end of each chapter.

Antonio Banderas and Gary Oldman play Ramón Fonseca Mora and Jürgen Mossack, partners in a Panama City-based law firm that specializes in all kinds of legal, semi-legal and not-really-legal tricks designed to horde, hide and launder the fortunes of the very rich. The two gentlemen appear in tuxes and ice-cream suits, in gold lamé and chalk stripes — the various uniforms of the moneyed elite. They represent a world of wealth without grace or nobility, a transnational ruling class with no class at all. The entitled and the greedy buy what they need and do what they want, without a thought for the consequences.

The consequences are borne by ordinary people, here embodied by Meryl Streep with a plain haircut and a flat Midwestern accent. She plays Ellen Martin, a Michigan grandmother whose attempts to do apparently straightforward things like settle an insurance claim and buy a new condo are ensnared in complicated schemes that defy rational comprehension. The companies she deals with are shells within shells, paper entities confected in the Mossack Fonseca offices, where accountability is laundered along with money.

The anecdotes assembled to illuminate the firm’s shady practices — and to give context to Ellen’s predicament — would make for tawdry and depressing reading. An expatriate oligarch cheats on his wife with their daughter’s best friend. The wife of a high-ranking Chinese official poisons a British businessman. Corruption is so normal that decency seems outlandish. Soderbergh and his top-notch cast (Sharon Stone shows up, as do Jeffrey Wright and Matthias Schoenaerts) keep things lively, playing out parables of betrayal and deception with pulpy, TV-movie flair.

Rather than trying to elicit horror or pity, “The Laundromat” aims to provoke a sense of spirited outrage, the sort of righteous disgust that might express itself through reform-minded citizen action. There’s no reason to be cynical about that. The main question about a movie like this is whether it can awaken viewers who aren’t already in agreement with its perspective and aware of the overall shape of its argument. The second question — the critic’s question, if no one else’s — is whether it succeeds as a movie independent of the merits of that argument.

That’s a tricky one. Since he ended his brief retirement from filmmaking in 2017, Soderbergh has plied his craft with scrappy exuberance. Like “Logan Lucky” and “High Flying Bird,” “The Laundromat” has an unpretentious, seat-of-the-pants vibe, even though the story and some of the effects are fairly elaborate. Not everything works. There is a labored surprise involving Streep that seems almost like an act of trolling intended to challenge the liberal good will on which the movie otherwise depends. And Oldman’s German accent is so grating that you may wish Mossack had been the silent partner so Banderas could have done all the talking.

But for a movie about how awful the world is and how it got that way, “The Laundromat” is kind of a lark.

The Laundromat

Rated R. Lucre doesn’t get much filthier than this. Running time: 1 hour 36 minutes.

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