Four Lions

Note: This review is from 2010

Review by Steve Bennett

Comic god Chris Morris may be, but he doesn’t exactly have a reputation for treading delicately around sensitive topics. So the news that he was to tackle the, erm, explosive subject of home-grown Islamic terrorists was sure to have the professional offendees preparing their most damning invective.

But Four Lions follows in the fine satirical tradition of depicting the enemy as witless buffoons, defusing any threat and menace they hope to impose by laughing in their foolish faces. The would-be bombers may be humanised here, but they are certainly not celebrated.

The clueless jihadists of this apparently self-determined terror cell, operating from a run-down flat in Doncaster are so stupid and clumsy they would have trouble passing the aptitude test to be in the Three Stooges, let alone Al Qaeda. Indeed, when two of them are invited to a Pakistani training camp, they are sent home in ignominy after a series of farcical events.

They fare no better at home. The film opens with their attempt to record their martyrs’ video, intending to put the fear of Allah into the West. But all they achieve is a bloopers reel, full of their petty earthly concerns.

Their often hilarious antics include using a children’s social networking website to communicate via animated puffins or plotting to train explosive-laden birds to fly suicide missions into buildings. Hassan, the slow-witted Baldrick of the group, gets his knowledge of the Koran from the picture book The Cat That Went To Mecca, so it’s no surprise that most of their plotting ends in slapstick. Some mullahs do ’ave ’em…

Apparently such farce has some basis in fact, as Morris was inspired to make this film after learning of the terrorists who planned to ram a US warship with a launch full of explosives. After loading up their lethal weapon, they stepped on board… and the boat duly sank.

Our mujahideen, though clearly exaggerated, are a believable bunch, thanks to the group dynamic. Hassan’s brother Omar is the only one of the lot with half a clue, yet frequently clashes with the radicalised Cockney convert Barry, who angrily claims ‘I’m the most Al Qaeda one here’, yet has no brains to channel the rage. In this plum role, Brass Eye alumnus Nigel Lindsay steals every scene he’s in, despite the obvious comic talents of the rest of the ensemble.

It’s all fun and games until someone loses an eye, of course, and it will come as little surprise that the deadly undercurrent eventually comes to the surface, after which the already delicate balance between menace and comedy become altogether more awkward, especially in the climactic scenes as our antiheroes put into action their plot to blow themselves up in the London marathon, hiding their bombs under fancy dress. It is a grim reminder that however inept they are, any outcast with explosives and the will to use it is a dangerous thing.

This means the last act isn’t necessarily easy to watch – but anyone familiar with Morris’s previous creations such as Jam will know he like to play with such emotional uncertainties. The wobbly camerawork suggesting snatched real-life footage also adds to the uneasy atmosphere, albeit at the cost of any filmic quality. This is definitely indie fare that will play just well on a small screen, rather than a cinematic epic.

To pick more fault, the mid-section of the film is a little too flabby, with just a few too many similar mishaps and near-misses as the cell threatens to be exposed by Hussain’ colleague or their spaced-out neighbour – a beautifully trippy cameo from Nighty Night’s Julia Davis.

But home-incubated terror is just the sort of subject comedians need to tackle – it shouldn’t all be ‘man drawers’ and ‘garlic bread’, however anodyne some elements of the press would like comedy to be.  Here Morris proves himself not just the sort of bold, intelligent and uncompromising character to pull it off – but also demonstrates a maturity not to go for shock tactics, when something more realistic can be so much more dramatic.

The result, though imperfect, is a frequently hilarious attempt to destigmatise the jihadist bogeymen and expose the innate stupidity of their actions. It’s, mostly, a blast.

Reviewed by: Steve Bennett

Review date: 1 Jan 2010
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett

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