Satire bumbles its way through
By Stephanie Merry
Friday, November 5, 2010
After some unscientific polling regarding the limits of acceptable humor, it might be in everyone's interest to begin this review as a flow chart with one simple question: Can you find comedy in the tale of idiotic terrorists clumsily attempting jihad? If no, please continue to the next review.
Otherwise, allow me to introduce "Four Lions," British comedian Chris Morris's satire about five Muslim buffoons bungling their way toward a terrorist attack. Among this hapless crew of criminal masterminds, a slightly misleading designation given that it implies both proficiency and brainpower, is Barry (Nigel Lindsay), an abrasive convert to Islam who makes no attempt to fly under the radar, Waj (Kayvan Novak), whose IQ seems to barely squeak into the double digits, and ringleader Omar (Riz Ahmed), who at least has the presence of mind to see that his accomplices are imbeciles.
Although Morris, who is a household name in England, thanks to his wicked brand of humor, hasn't gained much recognition stateside, his likely divisive directorial debut could change that. And he certainly earns points for audacity, not to mention research; he spent three years studying terrorists and their bloopers. The result is this pageant of pratfalls infused with occasionally pointed messages, one of which could have been clairvoyantly directed at Juan Williams. In "Four Lions," it's not the traditionally dressed Muslims whom people need to worry about.
And some moments are genuinely worth a chuckle for those disposed to comedy that's black as midnight. In one episode, the group members argue over what size gun to use while filming their jihad-launching home movie, while later a police sniper tries to seek out his target at a marathon (Omar dressed in a bear costume) but can't tell the difference between a Wookiee and a Honey Monster.
But the movie falters with an inconsistent tone. While much of the film rollicks in utter absurdity - Waj can't tell the difference between a chicken and a rabbit; the crew loves singing along to "Dancing in the Moonlight" - as the movie draws to its conclusion and the body count starts climbing, each scene becomes increasingly weighed down by the unmistakable feeling of sincerity. It seems like a bait-and-switch. Perhaps Morris expects the audience to suddenly relate to a character who, not an hour earlier, was punching himself in the face, but that leap seems more like a long shot.
So a movie that could have been discussion-worthy ends up feeling muddled. But if the overall impression comes off as confused, at least one thing remains clear: Although knowledge may be power, it's stupidity that can be truly dangerous.
Contains questionable comedy and death by explosion.