Islamic terrorism is a very touchy subject for multiple reasons. It
immediately raises bad memories of 9/11, in addition to the ongoing
terrors in Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan. There’s also the matter of
religious persecution, with peaceful and moderate Muslims everywhere
being discriminated against because a small and overly crazed minority
claims to speak for them. From a failed car bomb in Times Square to
Al-Qaeda execution tapes to a madman promising the destruction of
Israel, this continues to be a very serious issue with global
ramifications and an ever-growing body count.
Things are so bad with Islamic terrorism that we’ve lost all
perspective on it, and it’s times like those when some comedy relief is
needed most. But how could anyone make light of this dreadful subject
without coming off as tasteless? Here’s how.
Four Lions is a British comedy about a Muslim terrorist cell.
One of them, Omar, is a devout Muslim, devoted to the cause and willing
to martyr himself for the jihad. He’s also completely impotent because
he’s surrounded by idiots. There’s Waj, a total meathead who seems
entirely incapable of thinking for himself. There’s Faisal (he of the
link above), another nimrod who just loves to watch stuff go boom.
Hassan joins partway through the movie, though he’s clearly just a rich
kid trying to be all counter-culture and “gangsta.” Last but not least,
there’s Barry: A paranoid, anti-Semitic, self-righteous buffoon.
Right off the bat, it should be apparent that despite all claims to
the contrary, none of them — save for Omar — are sincerely devoted to
Islam. Hell, Waj insists on praying to the east even when he’s in
Pakistan and Mecca is to the west. Barry’s brilliant idea of inspiring
moderate Muslims to jihad is to blow up a mosque in Allah’s name. These
guys are not Al Qaeda soldiers. They’re just a handful of delusional
wannabes and dolts motivated solely by a ton of misplaced anger and a
grossly overinflated sense of self-importance.
This is one of many ways in which the movie makes fun of Islamic
terrorists while keeping it from being in bad taste. It’s very difficult
to sympathize with these numskulls or to root for their success in
blowing people up. But rooting for their inevitable and spectacular
failure in trying is all too easy. Case in point: If you’ve been
counting, then you’ll have noticed that there are five main characters,
as opposed to the four of the title. This is because one of the
characters dies before the climax, and it’s hilarious. These
characters are so unsympathetic that they can die without losing any
audience goodwill, and they’re so buffoonish that the cause of death and
its aftermath are very funny to watch.
The movie takes great pleasure in putting humorous spins on
situations that terrorists might find themselves in. The various
recorded messages come to mind. There’s also the hostage situation in
which Waj has no idea what to do with his hostages. They move to a new
headquarters, but their car breaks down and they have to carry
motion-sensitive explosives on foot. But easily my favorite is when Omar
(or is it Waj?) tries to take out an aerial drone in Pakistan. He
readies a rocket-propelled grenade, only to fire it in the wrong
direction. The RPG launches and… well, I won’t spoil it for you.
Suffice to say that you’ll want to sit through the credits.
As would be expected from British comedy, the verbal banter is every
bit as comical. There’s no shortage of creative insults and new ways to
curse, both in English and in subtitled Urdu. There’s a debate over
blowing up a mosque that’s simply priceless. I could provide several
other examples, but seeing really is
To be fair, the other side is made fun of as well. We get a very
funny scene of British police arguing over which target to take out, and
I got a huge kick out of the argument’s PR aftermath during the
credits. As a side note, it’s worth mentioning that Benedict Cumberbatch
makes a brief appearance as a police negotiator, working as a straight
man against Waj’s idiocy (if you don’t already know Cumberbatch from his
sterling turn as a 21st century Sherlock Holmes, I suggest you give
it a try).
Four Lions flies by at a brisk 97 minutes and I could easily
have seen more of it. The filmmakers did a brilliant job of taking the
uber-serious subject matter and bringing it down to our level. The main
characters are totally unlikable, but that only makes their inept banter
and their comical failures all the more fun to watch. I definitely
recommend watching it, and bringing along all the sense of humor you’ve
got to spare.