Oh boy, this is one of the blackest of black comedies, and it's bang up to the minute in addressing contemporary issues regarding multiculturalism and religious fundamentalism. If you're in the right frame of mind for it, however, you'll find it hilarious – I certainly did – but the laughs are always tempered with the uncomfortable truths the script raises too. Either way, Four Lions is everything the toothless The Infidel isn't. Chris Morris has crafted a biliously entertaining romp that scores with precision and is unafraid to tackle serious issues head on, chortling at them at the same time.
Four blokes, ordinary guys with ordinary jobs, who live in a suburban town near London, are part of a low rent jihadist cell that want to make a statement extolling their extreme Muslim beliefs – this entails causing harm to Westerners. Omar (Ahmed) is the family man, with a lovely wife and an adoring young son. He wants to become a soldier and goes to a training camp in the Middle East accompanied by best pal Waj (Novak), less gifted in the intellect department. Unfortunately they're more trouble than help out there. Meanwhile, back on home turf Muslim convert Barry (Lindsay), a domineering fascist fanatic, has brought out in new recruit Hassan (Ali), much to Ahmed's displeasure when he returns. Rounding out the group is Feisal (Akhtar), an amateur bomb maker who has been testing his talents on pigeons. Barry is intent on causing destruction to a mosque, but his idea is fiercely resisted. Eventually, the would be-suicide bombers settle on the London marathon as their target – but needless to say things don't quite go according to plan.
This synopsis doesn't sound remotely amusing does it? But take my word for it, this is a very funny movie indeed. Apart from straight guy Omar, the character we ostensibly "identify" with for want of a better word, the rest of the team are sharply defined comic buffoons radiating priceless stupidity. Their clumsy attempts to be faithful to the cause, ineptly tripping up as it were at every opportunity, consistently make one laugh. It utilises real locations with hand held digital camera work, so there is a documentary-like feel, making the situations believable – the vividly funny characters, played with the utmost naturalism, sweeping you along with the darkness of the subject matter. It's adroitly edited too and the climax, featuring the suicide bombers dressed as cartoon characters in garish costumes that protect their anonymity, is riveting.
It's quite a feat to make one horrified, excited and amused all at the same time. And in a couple of instances, the biggest laughs to be had are when the bombs accidentally go off. Now that is an achievement. Overall, this is a sharp satire executed with smarts and aplomb, an auspicious start to Morris' cinematic directorial career. Excellent.
SECOND OPINION : Neil Davey ?? If there's an award for Most Disappointing Film of the Year, then Four Lions is a shoe-in. With Chris Morris' comedy ancestry, you have every right to expect something witty, dark, clever that tramples all over political correctness as it scores its points and scores them hard. What you don't expect is a film that is, however, you cut it, just a rehash of the trailer. If you laughed at that — and I did — the you've seen Four Lions. All the good gags are frontloaded, and the rest of the film is, effectively the same joke (look at the funny incompetent terrorists) told another 47 times as Morris tries, and fails, to build on a genuinely brilliant idea. The first half hour is superb, a set-up of great promise that attacks its subject matter with scathing efficiency, but after that, nobody seems to know where it's going and, once you've experienced Julia Davis' criminally unfunny, utterly pointless cameo, the film crashes and burns and, worse, bores. Ultimately, instead of reducing its targets to rubble with the brutal, surreal satire we expect from Morris, Four Lions merely proves the law of diminishing returns. And then proves it again. And again. And again. Work of comedy genius? No. What we have here, ladies and gents, is a short film stretched painfully beyond breaking point.