Tuesday, April 26, 2011

"Four Lions" (2010)

Starring Riz Ahmed, Kayvan Novak and Nigel Lindsay
Written by Chris Morris, Sam Bain and Jesse Armstrong
Directed by Chris Morris
Rated R - Violence, strong language
Running Time: 97 minutes

Four Lions [Blu-ray]After the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, certain subjects became sort of... taboo.  Make a crack about falling buildings or Islam or what have you, and you'd get a dirty look followed by a chastising, "Too soon, man, too soon."  In 2010, some British filmmakers said, "Fuck it," and went and made an all-out jihad satire.

Omar (Riz Ahmed) and his dim-witted friend Waj (Kayvan Novak) are two British muslims who feel the call of duty to become suicide bombers.  The two team up with white convert Barry (Nigel Lindsay) and explosives "expert" Faisal (Adeel Akhtar) and begin to formulate plans.  Omar and Waj take a trip to Pakistan to join an al-Qaida training camp, but the experience is a disaster.  The two are kicked out of the terror organization after Waj is caught taking pictures of himself firing an AK-47 into the air on his cell phone... and for accidentally attacking their own camp with a missile launcher while trying to shoot down a U.S. spy drone.

Upon returning to Britain, Omar and the others manage to devise a plan to blow up a London mosque, but after an incident involving explosives and innocent sheep, the group splits up before reforming and deciding to blow themselves up during a marathon through London.  The group decides to disguise themselves in silly costumes to hide the explosives, and finally set on their way.  But unfortunately Omar begins to have doubts and second thoughts.  Unfortunately, the plan is already in motion, and he has to race to stop his friends from blowing themselves up and killing many innocent people and themselves.

"Four Lions" is a freaking riot.  What could have been a spectacular failure succeeds wonderfully thanks to some fabulously hilarious dialogue, a superb cast and a sprinkling of over-the-top shenanigans.  Much of the humor rests on the cast selling their imbecile characters who fumble about pretending they're experts at building bombs or disguising their identities while hoping to be taken seriously.  Right from the opening moments, where Waj attempts to make an imposing terrorist video while holding an undersized toy AK-47, "Four Lions" gets its almost "Three Stooges"-esque silliness down pat.

What makes "Four Lions" more intriguing is that while there's a classic sense to the humor, the subject matter is almost antithetical.  Why should we be finding humor in jokes about suicide bombers and the oppression of women?  Much of "Four Lions" feels like it shouldn't be funny, and it it entirely is.  Here are four bumbling souls who are charming and hilarious to watch, and yet at some point you have to realize that they are the villains of the piece - they're the ones who are trying to blow up innocent people, to become martyrs for a religion that they seem to barely understand.  Barry, the white convert, is openly racist toward Jews throughout the entire film, but I was actually saddened by his demise.

Situations that would normally not be played for laughs are done so freely in "Four Lions," such as when a police sniper kills the wrong target and then argues with his teammates over whether a Wookie is a bear, or even Waj taking restaurant patrons hostage, or a scene in which Omar's brother refuses to talk to him unless Omar's wife leaves the room only to be attacked by her with a water pistol.  Over the course of the film there's lots of talk of martyrdom, of killing to enter paradise, discussion of bomb-making and police response to it.  A lot of what ends up being discussed is unsettling, and unsettlingly hilarious. 

One aspect of the film that struck me is that Omar's loving, very Westernized wife is totally on board with his decision to become a suicide bomber.  She not only supports him, but encourages him to take control of the group and lead them to victory.  And yet this is also a woman who refuses to back down before Omar's peaceful but more overtly religious brother.  Her character is a bizarre contradiction, but fascinating nonetheless if only because we aren't given any insight into why she feels this way other than because she obviously loves her husband.  What kind of person could condone such violence in support of the man she loves?  I wish that aspect of the story had been given some exploration.

An odd, discomforting but totally hilarious comedy, I can't help but recommend "Four Lions."  It's just too funny to pass up, though the subject matter is one that requires more exploration and discourse, and the film has a couple of threads that could have been better fleshed out.