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Total Crap: 3.45%

4 reviews, 5 user ratings

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Four Lions
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by MP Bartley

"Terrorism - funny!"
5 stars

Chris Morris has carved out a career for himself as the enfant terrible of British radio and television. Starting out by announcing the fake deaths of leading politicians and celebrities on radio, he gravitated to Channel Four's fake news programme, The Day Today, before unleashing his greatest achievement upon the world - Brass Eye. Brass Eye was, again, a fake news magazine show that used flashy graphics, ludicrously over-egged buzz catchphrases and unsuspecting celebrities to satirise the increasing and unquestioning reliance on media outlets for our opinions and the media's propensity for instant outrage at the slightest thing. This resulted in the devastating paedophile special, dubbed "the sickest TV show ever" by the reactionary press, somewhat missing its point. Since then, Morris has kept quiet, scripting and directing a couple of sitcoms, but nothing that has stirred the hornet's nest like he used to. Until now, with his first ever feature film, Four Lions - a comedy about suicide bombers.

Manchester, England, and Omar (Raz Ahmed), a security guard at a local shopping precinct has formed an Islamic terrorist cell with his dim-witted brother, Waz (Kayvan Novak). In order to bring the greatest amount of terror to the streets that they can, they head off to Pakistan to be trained at a terror camp, leaving behind their other members, the slow-minded, bumbling Faisal (Adeel Akhtar) and the angriest member of the lot, Barry (Nigel Lindsay) - who also happens to be white. Whilst they're gone, Barry recruits impressionable youngster Hassan (Arsher Ali) to the group to aid their eventual plans - that's right, there's not four but five of them, giving a slight clue that their plan is not going to work out exactly as planned and that they're not the kind of brains Bin Laden would want to rely on.

Morris finds humour where others fear to tread and makes no apologies in doing so, but what's really interesting about Four Lions is that you'd be hard pressed to find anyone that would actually be offended by anything in it. It's certainly not anti-Islamic as there's not a single joke to be found that mocks the characters for being Muslim, and it certainly doesn't find the concept or the after-effects of suicide bombing amusing as I'll come to later in the review. Instead, Morris is actually aiming the film a little more obvious than that and is instead going for that comic target that has been exploited so many times before - male stupidity.

The point of the film isn't that these guys are suicide bombers, it's that they're so inept they couldn't organise a piss-up in a brewery, let alone a terrorist attack that will bring England to its knees. It's from this perspective that Morris takes great delight in puncturing their aims and objectives over and over again, with each fresh and ludicrous development taking the film to new comic heights. From Omar's and Waz's ill-fated trip to Pakistan which goes spectacularly wrong and pays off beautifully in a joke right at the end, to Faisal's staggeringly inept attempt at procuring enough amounts of bleach to manufacture explosives, seldom has a film been so killingly, killingly funny whilst being so stupid at the same time. At just over 90 minutes long, it's the perfect run-time for a comedy and it zips along on at a skippy pace with barely a pause or sag to it. It's one of the few films that deserves the tag "laugh-a-minute" as there are constant laughs from the opening sequence of the gang trying to film a video message for the police which is scuppered by the size of their hands right until the end where their choice of venue for attack leads to some unfortunate costume malfunctions.

And amongst those are some of the biggest belly laughs you're likely to see this year. Far be it from be to spoil them for you, but suffice to say that they range from the slapstick, to wonderfully clever sight gags - the way the gang communicate over the internet for example - and to Morris' skill for deliciously overwrought and twisted verbal insults that are flung back and forth. They all add up to one of the best absurdist comedies that I can think of, which is completely fitting for the plot of the film. Ultimately, if there's a serious point to the film, it's that these men are tragically deluded and blinded by their faith and are prepared to practice their faith to what is essentially a stupidly absurd final action. Morris understands this and the way he integrates this serious point into the comic narrative is a truly exceptional achievement.

Just as exceptional are the performances. Ahmed, as the cleverest stooge in a gang of idiots, is terrific, but the entire film is stolen away by Lindsay as the maddened and bloodthirsty, Barry. It's never said why a white man has fallen in with the Muslim community, but that is part of his comic beauty. He's permanently enraged when there's no earthly reason why he should be, and the angrier he gets, the funnier he gets, leading to a wonderful fit of rage against his broken-down car that will surely go down as one of the quotes of the year.

If you were being really picky, you could argue that Morris has missed a trick by not satirising the media's panic over Muslim terrorists and the white man's paranoia that this inflames, but really that's a totally different topic and would only flab out a film that has a refreshing lack of asides or subplots. And ultimately - and while I'm not going to divulge any plot points, if you want to remain totally unaware of what transpires at the end of the film skip to the final bolded paragraph - Morris plays the end of the film completely right and deflates any sensationalist charges against him. As it becomes clear that their plan may actually work in some small measure and Omar starts to panic about what he's brought his brother into, Morris tones the humour just enough, ending with a sobering final five minutes that turns from outright hilarity to something blackly comic, intellectually stimulating and curiously respectful all in one.

The topic of Islamic fundamentalism and suicide bombing is not one that springs to mind as immediately comic and Morris may well find that this type of humour does not travel well outside of the UK. More fool those that buy into the hype that this is some sick prank, however, as they'll be missing out on one of the funniest and brilliantly written comedies since Shaun of the Dead. After all, if there's a message to be taken from the film, it's that you shouldn't blindly follow what others do and say without understanding it yourself - although I am going to ask you to put your trust and faith in me when I tell you you owe it to yourself to experience Four Lions.

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originally posted: 05/20/10 22:06:19
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2010 Sundance Film Festival For more in the 2010 Sundance Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2010 South By Southwest Film Festival For more in the 2010 South By Southwest Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2010 Los Angeles Film Festival For more in the 2010 Los Angeles Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

2/15/15 john 1 1 stars
8/24/13 Ionicera kind of inconsistant in tone but lots of dark humor moments throughout 4 stars
11/10/10 mistermanager I really wanna see this! 5 stars
11/08/10 Dorothy Rozdilsky would watch again 4 stars
11/06/10 plop 5 5 stars
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  05-Nov-2010 (R)
  DVD: 08-Mar-2011

  07-May-2010 (15)

  26-Aug-2010 (M)
  DVD: 08-Mar-2011

[trailer] Trailer

Directed by
  Chris Morris

Written by
  Chris Morris
  Jesse Armstrong
  Sam Bain

  Riz Ahmed
  Arsher Ali
  Nigel Lindsay
  Kayvan Novak

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