KPBS Film Critic Beth Accomando reviews the British comedy "Four Lions."
Related Story: Review: 'Four Lions'
KPBS-FM Radio Film Review: "Four Lions"
By Beth Accomando
Air date: December 2, 2010
The British film "Four Lions" serves up a comedy about wannabe suicide bombers. This has film critic Beth Accomando wondering if anything has the potential to be funny.
4LIONS (ba).wav SOQ 3:55 (music out at 5:01)
(Tag:) "Four Lions" opens tomorrow (Friday) at the Reading Gaslamp Theaters. You can find more of beth's reviews and post your comments at K-P-B-S-dot-O-R-G-slash-cinema-junkie.
CLIP Springtime for Hitler
Back in 1968 Mel Brooks was criticized for making "The Producers," a comedy about Hitler. Nazis were not meant to be funny. But Brooks retorted, "if you ridicule them, you bring them down with laughter, they can't win. You show how crazy they are." Now British filmmaker Chris Morris has come along to make a comedy about a group of inept terrorists.
CLIP Barry: I am the most Al Quada one here, I am the invisible Jihadi!
But can terrorism be funny? At least with Nazis the war was over and Hitler was in the past. Terrorism, on the other hand, is very much a current reality. So maybe distance is needed for such comedy to be more acceptable. But Morris has a history creating fake news comedy shows in England. He's used to making people laugh inappropriately at such serious subjects as the IRA and pedophilia. So he couldn't help but laugh when he read about the incompetence of some real-life terrorists.
The men in Morris' film are not really religious or even political. They play video games, listen to rap, and have testosterone to burn. They're attracted to the notion of heroic sacrifice and making a mark in history.
CLIP What we gotta do has got to last in history, echo through the ages… like bomb a mosque…
They're buffoons prone to making bad decisions and engaging in clumsy action. But that doesn't stop Omar from looking to "The Lion King" as inspiration and dubbing his quartet the "Four Lions." Many people will likely take offense at the film but it actually manages to sidestep politics and religion in order to focus on the inept, self-delusional side of wannabe terrorists. Take this lesson about how to avoid being tracked.
CLIP You eat your SIMM card, get your SIMM card out, remove it, and… can I cook mine… no you must eat it raw like this.
The bomber decide to target the London Marathon. They strap on explosives and hide them under mascot costumes. This prompts the authorities to swing into action to take down costumed characters as they run through the streets. Only problem is the cops display the same bungling ineptitude as the terrorists.
CLIP A honey monster is not a bear. A honey monster is down control. No we have a wookiee down.
Morris' film raises questions about comedy, like what's the difference between farce and satire. Satire is defined as the literary art of ridiculing a folly or vice in order to expose or correct it. Farce, on the other hand, has less on its mind. It's defined as a form of humor based on exaggerated, improbable incongruities, and can involve rapid shifts in action and emotion, as well as slapstick. Morris identifies his film as a farce and that does provide a more accurate description of "Four Lions."
CLIP The report makes clear that the police shot the right man but the wrong man exploded.
What makes "Four Lions" work is that Morris crafts a smart script and doesn't play it like a sitcom. His years doing fake news serve him well and he gives the film an oddly realistic style that butts up against the absurdity of the situations. There's awkward laughter in the disconnect between family life at Omar's house and the fact that he wants to be a terrorist.
CLIP You were much more fun when you were gonna blow yourself up… I am going to blow meself up but just not in a mosque or on top of a duck… If they are going to blow themselves up in the wrong place, you have to blow yourself up in the right place.
The tone is very natural, and the characters come across as real and human. They're not necessarily humanized but they're not evil with a capital "E." In the end, "Four Lions" may not deliver a message or serve up political or social commentary. Instead it offers a hilarious, pitch black comedy that suggests we can never protect ourselves from stupidity and incompetence.
For KPBS, I'm Beth Accomando.