Good heavens, and here was I thinking that The Infidel was on dangerous ground. Believe me, it’s got nothing on Four Lions, the new movie from controversial British writer Christopher Morris. This is a comedy concerning four British citizens — three of Pakistani descent, one white — whose ultimate goal is to become suicide bombers. Those easily offended should steer well clear.
The group is headed by Omar (Riz Ahmed), a happily married Northerner with a young boy for whom bedtime stories are adaptations of Disney tales with militant morals. Omar’s family, for reasons we are never explained, support him on his quest to bring terror to the masses. “Don’t worry, Dad,” his son encourages him as bombing plans are discussed, “you’ll be in heaven before your head hits the ceiling.” Next in our motley crew is Barry (Nigel Lindsay). His curse was to be born white and attempts to make up for it with increasingly over-the-top suggestions. His latest, for example, is to blow up a mosque. To his thinking it will force the moderate Muslims to rise up and defeat the infidels. “But my dad prays in that Mosque,” one tells him. “Your dad buys Jaffa oranges, yeah?,” he replies, “he’s funding nukes for Israel.”
The third member is Waj (Kavyan Novak), and his quirk is that he is completely stupid in the way that only characters in British comedies are. We see him first, actually, shooting his home-made video in the style that we’re all accustomed to seeing on our news broadcasts, that of the Muslim with the gun, and the militant slogan on the wall. Waj’s problem is that his AK-47 is a half-sized replica but no matter; he reasons that if he holds it close to the camera it will look bigger. Adeel Akhtar, as Faisel, rounds out the group. He’s the timid one, afraid of dying. To this end he’s been experimenting with bombs attached to his pet crows, without much success.
Omar and Waj are called to a Pakistani training camp to learn the ways of terrorism. Thanks to Waj’s incompetence and an elementary mistake with an anti-aircraft missile launcher the pair are soon back in England, and just in time. In their absence Barry has been stirring up trouble again; ‘low’ and ‘profile’ are two words never to be joined together as far as he’s concerned. Omar realizes that his destiny is to blow up something important, something that will write his name into the history books. The approaching London Marathon seems as good as any with its worldwide media attention.
Writer/director Christopher Morris is no stranger to controversy, of course; so much so that it’s more surprising when he doesn’t release something that gets the media into a baying frenzy. He will certainly achieve his goal with Four Lions. A slapstick comedy about inept Muslim suicide bombers could not receive anything less. But it has to be said that Morris the satirist hits his targets — both in his depiction of the divine farce of the bomber but also in the public perceptions of the same. This second part is crucial; without it we would merely be watching bungling, bumbling losers in the same way we once enjoyed/endured Jerry Lewis movies. Unlike The Nutty Professor, however, this film was created with intelligence. It is confrontational, foolhardy at times, deliberately antagonistic and occasionally funny.
While we’re on the subject of comedy, I should say that the humor was too slapstick for my tastes. This, as I’ve often mentioned, is frequently the case in British comedies where we’re always aware that we’re watching characters created to convey a point rather than people to whom the events unfurl spontaneously. Morris the comedy writer has always had a sense of the surreal, which can be both a good and a bad thing. Some of the jokes work, but it would be fair to say that a lot don’t. Even so, there are enough moments of comedy in here to satisfy its label, and the theme is guaranteed to provoke post-movie conversation. My one concern would be that people watching Four Lions will laugh for entirely the wrong reasons.