The suicide-bomber comedy Four Lions arrives in America with slightly bum timing—the weekend of the NPR fracas would have been ideal. The feature debut of Chris Morris dares to find jokes in Sheffield jihadists planning to make their mark, albeit while dressed as ostriches and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
Of course, like most amateurs, they have more in common with the underwear bomber. Even Riz Ahmed’s Omar, the most intelligent of the five, gets booted from terrorist training camp and can’t grasp basic rocket launcher function. Of the rest, two are endearingly dim, one’s an Ali G-esque poser and the last’s a blowhard who pulls tenets like “Dogs contradict Islam” and “Spark plugs are a Jewish plot” from deep within his ass. Three of the five guys are basically likable, which is a touch disconcerting when their aim is to ignite a London still shaky from 7/7.
Criminally underknown in the states, Chris Morris is Britain’s most savage satirist, and his shows (Brass Eye, The Day Today, Nathan Barley ) combine headline-grabbing pranks with fearless subversion. On Brass Eye , he tricked various celebrities into advocating against a fictional drug called “cake,” while the show’s notorious “Paedogeddon” episode netted the BBC a record number of complaints. Four Lions is more rooted in reality than anything Morris has ever made; comparisons to Dr. Strangelove are apt, but it’s a Dr. Strangelove where Dr. Strangelove is a recognizable human being. Even playing it straight, Morris finds much to laugh at, and it takes a unique brilliance to turn the murders of innocent bystanders into a film’s heartiest laughs.
But it’s as funny as it is rich. Morris spent three years researching the project, and his film—in addition to being a constant hoot—offers an important rejoinder to our latest wave of anti-Muslim fervor. In Four Lions, extremists are choked by misplaced anger and uninterested in actual religious study, while true, peaceful fundamentalists are plagued by racial profiling, which only makes matters worse. If it’s not as gut-busting as In the Loop (two of whose writers carried on here; they’re presumably responsible for creative insults like “floppy camel sphincter”), it’s more important. It will make Juan Williams nervous, and that’s good.