Terrorism can be funny if you use the transitive property that stupidity is funny and terrorists can be incredibly stupid. Idiotic terrorists (seems redundant to write that) aren’t just the premise of Chris Morris’ great comedy Four Lions, but they actually exist. As Jon Stewart joked on The Daily Show when comparing the shoe bomber to the underwear bomber, it took seven years for the terrorists to devise the ingenious plot of moving the explosive up a couple feet. However, there is seriousness to terrorism that cannot be ignored and Four Lions walks a delicate line of being outlandish without being offensive.
Omar (Riz Ahmed), Waj (Kayvan Novak), Barry (Nigel Lindsay), Faisal (Adeel Akhtar), and Hassan (Arsher Ali) have resolved to become suicide bombers. The reasons for their devotion is never made clear and they all seem in love with the idea of terrorism rather than any change their actions could set to bring about. However, the lack of a clear motive opens the door for hilarious situations as the wannabe holy warriors chase after terrorist iconography and fail terribly at it. Whether it’s recording a low-budget, threatening video while holding a gun that’s way too small or mishaps at terrorist training camp, the guys are very bad (and very funny) at being terrorists.
The film keeps you on the side of the wannabe-terrorists because of their buffoonery. The comic timing of the production is superb and moments that could seem off-putting instead work beautifully. For example, Omar tells his young son The Lion King as a bedtime story, but recasts it as a holy war where Simba and his pals are terrorists. Morris gets the comedy down perfectly and Ahmed’s wonderful performance doesn’t make the story seem cruel and grotesque.
The entire cast does a wonderful job. Novak and Akhtar are fantastic at playing dumb, but in different ways so that their characters don’t feel redundant. However, the scene stealer is Lindsay. Barry is a convert to Islam and his righteous indignation comes off as hilarious. His total confidence in his moronic ideas is both sharp satire and delightful comedy. My only qualm with the performances (and perhaps this was more a problem with the audio on my screener copy) was that thei British accents were so think, I sometimes had difficult making out what they were saying.
Four Lions also makes a play for a broader commentary on the “War on Terror” near the end of the movie, but it’s a bit too late and by that point, the film makes a bold and surprising turn into more serious territory. However, the ending, while unexpected, feels earned and bittersweet. And that’s when you realize that although you’ve been laughing at these demented characters for ninety minutes, you’ve also grown to care about them. But Four Lions isn’t pro-terrorism. It’s pro-laughter and how comedy has more power than a bomb, especially when that bomb is attached to a terrorist dipshit who is dressed as a ninja turtle. Terrorism is stupid and stupidity is funny. Four Lions is funny, but it’s definitely not stupid.