(Directed by Chris Morris, running time 100 minutes)
To those who may be unfamiliar with names alone, director Chris Morris is better known for his written and starring role in the highly controversial satirical faux-news program Brass Eye. That alone would make complete sense of the already awkward premise of Four Lions. Yes, it seems to sheer mention of Islam in popular media these days is enough to incite a fraction of doubt and unease in the public’s mind, yet here we have Al-Qaeda meets the Three Stooges...er, Four Stooges.
Four Lions follows the dimwitted exploits of four radical Islamic terrorists, in Sheffield, England, composed off two young adult brothers Omar (played by Riz Ahmed) and Waj (Kayvan Novak), the latter of which is how you say slow, middle-aged British convert Barry (Nigel Lindsey) and bumbling fool Faisal (Adeel Akhtar), all of whom aspire to of all things pull off a successful suicide bombing. The only problem with this gang of irrational simpletons are not only ill-equipped to use weaponry, they even have a poor grasp of the religion they’re fighting for. Soon enough, further problems arise when a fifth recruit, Hassan (Arsher Ali) joins the fray, whose just as way over his head than the rest of the “happy campers”.
The obvious point to note even before viewing is just how far the controversial premise goes. Islam aside, the set up of a suicide bombing on British soil is hardly the first sketch that comes to mind in situation comedy. As a satire on a recent news worthy issue however, the comedy just plain works. While the audience is treated to a foreseeable series of bombings gone wrong and near blown cover as punch-lines, the majority of the comedy however comes from the constant bickering between the cast, a staple of cynical British humor. Despite all sharing the same faith (supposedly), the entire ensemble are in fact perfect misfits. Even the young brothers are on opposite ends of the spectrum intelligence wise, a somewhat classic image of the narrow-minded yet idealistic modern day British youth. The rest however are just not well adjusted enough to be in the terrorist trade... and that has to say something.
Which brings me on to the most unique point of the film. In an odd yet compelling way the characters are actually rather likable with their [counter-]witty lines of dialogue and predictable failures like a cast of cartoon archetypes. In reality they’re the villains but since failure is a recurrent theme it’s no different from cheering on Dick Dastardly or Wile E. Coyote. The only difference is instead of getting a black cloud of smoke in the face you get reduced to a bloody pulp on the pavement. Don’t worry though, in the few instances when something does go boom, the said cloud is all you see. It’s rather clean on screen when your profession involves scattering your limbs down the high street. Thrown in for good measure is the other side of the coin, the British intelligence agency who as we know is prone to... how you say, “hiccups” in their profiling and direct handling with the apparent threat to national security.
There are to say the least a couple of dry spells humor wise given the heavy handed message the script is quite obviously trying to hammer home and much of one’s own enjoyment would be based on how they react to similar news stories and their stance on political correctness. Of all scenes that make the greatest impact is hands down the last character driven scene before the credits begin to roll. Naturally without spoiling anything, I’ll just say it’s both funny and relevant to the characters, but not what they’re doing.
The final point of note about Four Lions is how such a film wouldn’t be achievable if made in the good old US of A. This isn’t just due to the obvious fear of showing acts of terrorism in a slapstick tone within their own borders, but also my own guess is that the representation would be a more cliche and less believable cast of Muslims, perhaps using stereotypes that would cause an outcry that this film has thankfully avoided. No offense to the US filmmaking, but this is based of prior attempts. While no British comedy classic, Chris Morris however has once again gone against the current media mindset and produced a film that’s not afraid to show to a realistic enough approach to a news heavy issue and laugh about it.
Also stars Julia Davis, Preeya Kalidas and Kevin Aldon.