Published Feb 17, 2011In the opening scene of British mockumentary Four Lions, a group of would-be terrorists bicker and argue while making a martyr video, noting that the automatic weapon on display is too small, insulting each other's general lack of menace. Ersatz leader Omar (Riz Ahmed) cites American Imperialism as the enemy, forming an analogy about hamburgers, which the less learned Waj (Kayvan Novak) misinterprets, telling Americans that a bucket of chicken might be a better deal.
Despite the initial shock of such taboo subject matter getting the comedy treatment, what's clear is the proposed demystification of figures typically relegated to single-minded caricatures by suggesting that insecurity, idiocy and disorganization are universal. As the film progresses, the abstract, desultory nature of their terrorist plotting propels the story and comedy. Barry (Nigel Lindsay) is convinced that blowing up the local Mosque would help get passive Muslims to rise up and fight, while Omar has bigger, albeit vaguer, plans for glory, bragging to his son about fighting for a cause while distorting The Lion King into a vengeful martyr parable.
Handled similarly in direction and tone as the hilarious In the Loop, the jokes are devoid of punchlines, delivered with straight faces, in all seriousness, by characters that aren't in on the gag. Pitch black dialogue about baking a twin towers cake for a Synagogue on 9/11 almost blends in with arguments about discreetly purchasing bleach for explosives. And while this is, indeed, quite funny for the first half-hour, it grows tired once the shock value wears off. Where In the Loop featured moderately intelligent people doing stupid emotional things in ridiculous situations, Four Lions sketches all of its characters with generalized, bumbling stupidity. Their actions are far too unlikely to convince beyond broad lampooning, keeping everything just shy of witty in cartoon territory.
Regardless, there are standout moments sure to make jaws drop, and the actual concept is quite refreshing. Short of greatness, this comedy about terrorism is likely funnier than any American studio attempt you'll see this year. (eOne)