It’s no secret that terrorists can’t take a joke. Draw a cartoon poking fun at Mohammad and they’ll hand your first amendment rights to you on a platter mixed with your entrails.
So imagine the guts it takes to make an entire movie lampooning the stupidity and incompetence of terrorists. That’s what first-time director Chris Morris has done with Four Lions, the most courageously offensive film to come out of last year’s Sundance Film Festival—a fabulously dark comedy that flips one finger after another at the whole idea of jihad and those who pursue it.
Four Lions chronicles the idiocies and mishaps of a band of British muslims who desperately want to be terrorists, but are more menace to themselves than to anyone else. If the Three Stooges tried to take down Western civilization, they’d do a much better job than this clan of nitwits. When two of them get sent to Pakistan for some real terrorist training, they try to shoot down an American drone plane with a rocket launcher, but fire it backwards and accidentally destroy their training camp. When their car breaks down, they blame it on the Jews. Their big plan is to bomb a mosque and blame it on the West so that moderate Muslims will get angry and join their jihad. Idiots that they are, they still feel it’s necessary to make a videotape taking responsibility for the bombing, even though they’re trying to deflect the blame to someone else.
The strange thing about Four Lions is that even though these guys are terrorists, you end up feeling sorry for them. The leader of the group is the only one with a decent head on his shoulders (which he’s intent on blowing off), but his cohorts are so inept that you begin to sympathize with him. He’s trying to do something meaningful and serious, but the numbskulls he’s working with would have a hard time blowing up a balloon. The terrorists don’t come across as evil, they just come across as a bunch of guys who can’t do anything right. It’s really a buddy movie, and in some ways it’s kind of sweet, because these poor fellows are obviously cursed by “God’s will.” We’re supposed to hate them because they want to kill us, but it’s hard to muster much enmity towards them because they’re the most non-threatening bunch of terrorists who ever lived.
The terrorists aren’t the only ones who can’t do anything right; the police are just as inept in their own way, ignoring obvious clues and cracking down on the wrong people. Indeed, when Morris widens the frame, his target is the ridiculous dance between terrorists and law enforcement, each of whom is deathly afraid of the other.
The freedom to laugh at anything is one of the most underrated freedoms in the Western world. But when you see a film like this, it reminds you how empowering it is to laugh at your enemies. And, since most people wouldn’t dare make fun of Muslims, let alone terrorists, there’s plenty of comic territory for director Morris to mine. After all, the field of terrorist comedy is wide open.
Making ridiculous fun of people you despise is psychologically cleansing; it’s like taking a sanity bath. Four Lions was turned down by the BBC for being too incendiary, which only makes it more enticing to see. It’s only playing at St. Anthony Main through Monday, but it’s well worth the trip. It takes balls to make a movie like this, and it’s a shame more people can’t see it—especially if you like your comedy dark and your satire sharp.
Four Lions continues at St. Anthony Main through Monday, Jan. 17.