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‘Four Lions’—This isn’t really funny. Or is it?

November 14th, 2010 Posted in Opinion

By Jakob Asplund

When is it acceptable to make jokes about sensitive matters? Is there a magic number of years that have to pass for it to be OK to look at terrible events or groups of people throughout our history and laugh about them?

Satirists have one of the toughest jobs in the world, but they are truly masters of pinpointing this magic timeline and using it. “Four Lions,” an outrageously hilarious new film by Christopher Morris with the help of a few British geniuses, balances right on the edge of appalling and comedic genius.

Terrorists are not very funny and neither are suicide bombers, but when five self-proclaimed and confused jihadists or Muslim fighters swallow SIM cards to prevent “the feds” from tracking them, or argue that bombing a mosque will radicalize the Muslim moderates to stand up and fight, it is hard not to laugh.

“Four Lions” is a chaotic, satirical journey about five fanatical Muslims in northern England who don’t seem to know much about anything.

Whether it’s holding a rocket launcher the wrong way, tying bombs to crows or learning the Islamic doctrine through children’s books like The Cat Who Went to Mecca, it’s pretty obvious that these men are not fit to organize a terrorist attack. The fact that there are five of them in a movie called “Four Lions” either shows that these men are lacking any mathematical skills or that one of the group members is subtracted through premature martyrdom involving a fluffy animal. This, however, does not matter, as they driven to these deeds in the name of Allah.

Morris shoots his movie in a very bouncy, low-budget style closer to a homemade film found on YouTube than to an actual movie, “Four Lions” becomes very real and easy to take in for the viewers. Taking place somewhere in a middle-class suburb in northern England, partly in London and with a side trip to Pakistan, the film takes you on a multilingual roller coaster. Sometimes it is even difficult to understand what is being said. “Lions” is a cynical and funny, yet painfully accurate view of how we generalize societies.

When it comes to the acting, it is perhaps most fitting to categorize the characters in descending order of intelligence. Omar (Riz Ahmed) is the brains of the terrorist group, which means he makes the movie reach out farther in comic sense. Because he is a regular guy with a normal job and a family, he comes across and likable. His commitment to violence, however, makes it slightly disturbing that the viewer´s identifies with him, or at least feels his pain with the group.

Barry (Nigel Lindsay) is a man of slightly less intelligence—“slightly” meaning that he is the one who suggests bombing the mosque to “radicalize the moderates.” He is a hot-headed Muslim convert who makes the group members do the most outrageously humorous things to maintain their anti-surveillance measures.

Faisal (Adeel Akhtar) is a dreamy, nervous man whose main contribution to the terrorist group is to use crows for terrorist bombings. And he gets a deal on liquid peroxide to make bombs—a three years stockpile—from the same wholesaler.

Hassan (Arsher Alie), a rapper whose area of expertise is “jihad of the mind,” uses poetry-slam wordplay with Islamic references to make conversation.

And, then there’s Waj (Kayvan Novak), who can’t tell a chicken from a rabbit and is the one who studies Islamic through children’s books. In the end, however, without spoiling too much, he is one of the characters you feel for the most.

The one weak spot of the movie might be the acting. These actors do fit the parts they play and are very believable, but there are times when the humor gets somewhat repetitive. This is obviously not a laugh-out-loud college comedy with half-naked girls and alcohol as main themes, which is refreshing. But sometimes it seems that all five are playing the same character. If this is because the script has one single distinguishing factor that unites them—idiocy—or because the actors don’t have enough time to develop their characters is hard to say. There are only so many times you can say the word “bomb” with an immigrant-British accent and make it funny.

“Four Lions” doesn’t try to do anything too serious. It doesn’t discuss the serious and grim matter of its central premise—terrorism—and neither does it study the roots of fundamentalist Islam, which ’way too many movies already try to do. It just makes fun of people, and it does make as much fun of British Muslims as it does nonviolent Muslims and even non-Muslim Britons.

This film takes comedy past the point of sensitive matters and puts the audience in a situation where they are not sure if it is OK to laugh, forcing them to do so anyway. In the end, bombs will go off and people will explode, but most likely not in the way the audience expected.

The purpose of “Four Lions” is to teach you that even the most stupid and silly individuals are capable of doing a lot of damage. You will laugh at how these particular idiots do it, then realize that you’re not supposed to laugh at matters this serious, then laugh some more.


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  1. One Response to “‘Four Lions’—This isn’t really funny. Or is it?”

  2. By wymetto on Nov 18, 2010

    We live in a world trying to be so politically correct it’s killing us. Sounds like a good one to watch..

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