Thursday, 10 March 2011
Starring: Riz Ahmed, Arsher Ali, Nigel Lindsay, Kayvan Novak, Nigel Lindsay
By Alan Bacchus
Director Chris Morris throws caution to the wind with the biggest set of cinematic balls this side of Werner Herzog. He co-wrote and directed this jet black British comedy about four hapless wannabe Islamic terrorists who declare their own personal Jihad. Miraculously, Morris manages to make terrorism hilarious.
Omar (Riz Ahmed) is a British Muslim living in conspicuously unnamed London. He’s disillusioned with the treatment of Muslims around the world and thus desires to join Al Qaeda. Omar joins up with three other like-minded stooges to plot their own act of terrorism at home. The hapless foursome includes Barry (Nigel Lindsay), a blue-collar Joe and convert to Islam, Waj (Kayvan Novak), a complete dufus who lets Omar do the thinking for him, and Faisal, who is even more hapless and clumsy than Waj.
After a training mission in Afghanistan goes wrong - Omar accidentally fires an RPG backwards into their own desert encampment - Omar and Waj return home to wage war. Their target is a city marathon where they intend to dress up as clowns with bombs hidden under their clothes. But as the clock ticks down, second thoughts about their actions conflict with the patriotic fervour.
Four Lions sits closely with another British black comedy, In the Loop, and the similarities go beyond the tone and subject matter. Both are productions of Film4 in the UK, and director Chris Morris comes from the Armando Iannucci think tank of comedy, having worked with Iannucci and Steve Coogan on BBC2’s The Day Today.
The film scores big points for its sheer audacity, which is found in all great black comedies, as it skewers what’s sacred and delicate. Morris conducts his farce with the same rhythm as the great Brit-coms. Jokes are of the deadpan and slapstick variety in the tradition of the cinematic idiocy of say, Spinal Tap.
Unfortunately, Four Lions is missing some of the cinematic quality of In the Loop, as it often feels contained and closed off, like a television series rather than a larger canvas of a feature film. It also suffers from sameness in some of the characters. Although the four actors have the right type of deadpan comedic timing and charm, there’s little to differentiate between Waj, Barry and Faisal, and the jokes are interchangeable between the three characters.
But for sheer audacity and its tone of irresponsible comic nihilism, Four Lions is a whole lot of fun - just not the gut-buster the high concept implies.
Four Lions is available on DVD in Canada from EOne Entertainment