A wildly funny yet disturbing spoof of Islamic terrorism at the hands of wannabe, bumbling jihadis. Think radicalized Jackass meets the Three Stooges.
In satirist Chris Morris’s debut film, Four Lions, it’s the trials and tribulations of a bunch of incompetent knuckleheads trying to wage jihad in Sheffield, England that detonate the non-stop laughter. So much so, in fact, that when the explosively slapstick gags end in disaster, it’s then that you realize the bitter socio-political truths behind the farce, making this one hell of a smart comedy. Or highly politically incorrect, it’s up to you.
These inept, would-be suicide bombers are loosely led by Omar (Riz Ahmed…look for him in the new Jason Bourne movie), the only character who’s got more than scrambled eggs for brains. In fact, any real pathos in Four Lions springs from the fact that Omar has a seemingly normal family life which seems at ideological odds with his calling as a jihadi, until you realize how intertwined the mission is within the family dynamic: comical and chilling at the same time. His buddy Waj (in a brilliant buffoon sidekick performance by impresario Kayvan Novak) is so dumb that he has to take a selfie of his face to tell if he’s confused or not. Waj’s accent is a peculiar mashup of Middle Eastern with a Scottish brogue, in itself funny but tough to decipher on the soundtrack. In fact, I felt myself leaning in way too hard to make out the dialogue, which is a shame given how key the conversations and confrontations are in the story.
From a pitiful display of hilarious ineptitude at a terrorist training camp in Pakistan, Omar and Waj regroup in England with their motley crew of ignorant zealots, hatching an idiotic plot to disrupt the London Marathon. The plan involves cartoon costumes, armed crows, and exploding sheep, not in that order. It can only end badly for these misdirected miscreants, but that’s their dream and “God’s plan”, after all.
Director Chris Morris also co-wrote the film, for which he picked up the 2011 BAFTA Award for Outstanding Debut by a British Writer, Director or Producer. In 2010, Four Lions also won the award for Best Narrative Feature at the Los Angeles Film Festival.
I was reminded of how the best cultural and political criticism often comes in the form of parody, farce and satire. Mark Twain, anyone? In an ironic twist, Four Lions – although a Comedy – can be taken as a potent anti-terrorist vehicle, in that it exposes the mindset of jihad as empty-headed and fundamentally vapid but does it in a satisfyingly entertaining way. In the article, Humor Can Be Effective Political Weapon, published earlier this year in The Sun-Sentinel, A.J. Caschetta (a Shillman-Ginsburg Fellow at the Middle East Forum) writes, “For humor to be an effective weapon, it must come from within the culture, or at least appear to. . . Satirizing the Islamic State and ridiculing its Islamist ideology should attempt to make the movement and its ideas seem backward, unsophisticated, uncool. The Islamic State portrays itself as a caliphate, comprised of authentic jihadis practicing pure Islam. Effective satire could rebrand them as a collection of backward, ignorant buffoons.”
In Four Lions, it’s Mission Accomplished.
Four Lions is presently streaming on Amazon.
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