Chris Morris is a revered cult figure in the U.K. but barely known to all but the most dedicated Anglophile comedy fans on this side of the pond.
That could change with the release of Four Lions, Morris’s first feature-length movie after shocking and awing Brits with his TV media satires The Day Today and Brass Eye (infamous for tricking Phil Collins into seemingly endorsing a fake charity called “Nonce Sense”).
With literally incendiary wit and little regard for political correctness, Four Lions is a goof-off look at Islamist terrorism and a fearless satire of Jihad.
With an approach that suggests a realist Hogan’s Heroes (or, as Brits would remember, the Nazi-ribbing series Dad’s Army), Four Lions eavesdrops on the pratfalls, squabbles and infighting among a small cell of would-be suicide bombers in search of a proper location to blow themselves to glory.
Right from the get-go, Lions takes the starch right out of the image of terrorism by showing the “outtakes” from a videotaped message to “infidels.” No sooner has one of the men gotten his threat started before another one is pointing out the rifle he’s holding looks too small.
“Nah,” he scoffs. “I got big hands.”
Morris’s movie is a delicious piss-take on the delusions of grandeur enacted by both sides in the war on terror (in this case, the terrorists and the band of bobbies representing a police state), though it must be said the bulk of the parody is leveled at the Jihadists.
Omar (Riz Ahmed) is the family man in this unit, whose wife and son cheer him on as he trains (haplessly) to fulfill his destiny. Waj (Kayvan Novak) is his dim-witted but earnest right-hand man. Even more dim-witted is Fessal (Adeel Akhtar), who cowers at every bark from Barry (Nigel Lindsay), a white convert whose bright ideas include hiding a Twin Towers cake in a synagogue and blowing up a mosque to incite fence-sitting Muslims and ignite the Holy War.
In short, they’re Dumb, Dumber, Even Dumber and Dumbest.
The quartet (then quintet … then, thanks to one’s clumsiness while transporting volatile chemicals, quartet again) stumble and bumble their way through their training before ultimately settling on a target: the London Marathon.
Morris’s movie occasionally thinks it’s funnier than it really is, but the disparity is more than rectified by the fact that the subject matter is so rarely mined for laughs in the first place.
Four Lions is showing at St. Anthony Main courtesy the Film Society of Minneapolis/St. Paul, whose website might say it best when it notes: “While hugely entertaining, it draws from real life and demonstrates that home grown extremists have many shortcomings but are also human.”
The ultimate joke that emerges from Four Lions is that the very suggestion that extremists might actually be, you know, human would be regarded by anyone as provocative.
Eric Henderson is a web producer and film blogger for WCCO.COM.