If the things we fear most are the best fodder for black comedy (think Dr. Strangelove) then Four Lions, a veritable Three Stooges-esque comedy about Westernized jihadis, is on fertile soil indeed.
In fact, it's amazing that so few satires like this have been made, especially if you consider the element of farce that has accompanied so many terrorist attempts by second-generation martyrs with second-hand faith.
We're thinking of the London-born Shoe Bomber, Richard Reid, or the Ottawa terror suspect who had earlier auditioned for Canadian Idol. British friends tell me about the popularity of watching (for entertainment) jihadi videos by self-styled Al-Qaeda operatives, dressed like hip-hop gangstas and talking like characters from a Guy Ritchie movie.
All those elements are played for sly slapstick in Four Lions, a kind of Gang-Who-Couldn't-Bomb-Straight that very early on separates the issue of pro terrorism from that of incompetent wannabes who are more dangerous to themselves than to innocent civilians.
In the opening act of the film, the nominally smartest of the group, Omar (Riz Ahmed) and Waj (Kayvan Novak) get to work with the real guys, at a mujahideen training camp in Pakistan, where they are hated by their "brothers" for not speaking proper Urdu, and spectacularly untrainable (at one point, they attempt to shoot down an American "drone" and fire backwards).
Sent home in disgrace, their life becomes a ludicrous series of arguments over "takes" on a homemade jihad video, and then the inevitable -- a plan to make a homemade bomb via Internet directions. Dragging down every idea with his own loud knuckleheadedness is Barry (Nigel Lindsay), the most public of the Lions (and the one with the thickest Northern English accent), one of those Muslim "spokesmen" who has made himself available to the media to turn every debate into a shouting match.
It's worth noting that none of these idiots ever quotes so much as one word of the Koran (although Barry, who fashions his public image as clerical, does a hilarious job of explaining jihad using The Lion King as a metaphor).
Barry's head is so skewed, it takes forever to dissuade him from his genius idea to bomb a Mosque, thus radicalizing its occupants.
It's when their ultimate haphazard bombing plan gets underway that Four Lions becomes almost Monty Pythonesque. They bomb crows. They kill and maim their own. Genial Londoners who know them only on friendly terms agreeably swallow unlikely excuses for their strange behaviours (at one point, they must reluctantly admit to being gay to put a young woman, not very bright herself, off of other, more dire suspicions).
Director Christopher Norris seems content for the longest time to make an Islamic Fundamentalist version of Dumb and Dumber. But he doesn't take his eye off the ball when it comes to the denouement. Although they begin filming videos with a toy AK-47, the Lions are messing with real explosives by the end, and the ending is a bit of a bitter pill.
Still, even then, Four Lions doesn't lose its sense of the absurd.
(This film is rated 14A)