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3 of 5 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars A subject like this deserves a better comic treatment than cheap laughs and crude stereotypes, 6 Sept. 2011
This review is from: Four Lions - Special Edition [DVD] (DVD)
Four Lions is Chris Morris' take on the post-9/11 Islamic fundamentalist terrorist crisis. Briefly, it tells of the attempts of a small band of home-grown wannabe suicide bombers to hatch and execute a mass murder bombing campaign on the lines of the July 7 bombings in London.

It sounds like a recipe for cinematographic disaster and censorious outrage; how on earth can you make a comedy about suicide bombers? Some might suggest that it was Morris' reputation as a comedic risk-taker, a biting satirist, that allowed him to carry this off. I suspect that is about half-right as I believe his reputation to be, in no small part, fashionable hype and it is probably the hype that preceded the film that saved it from universal condemnation.

Is it satire? I am not sure that it is. It is probably more along the lines of farce/black comedy (very black, considering the subject matter) because, on the face of it, Morris seems to rely on heavy-handed slapstick rather than biting satire. All of the real laughs come from things blowing up, more or less unexpectedly, and it is the shock value of these explosions that gets the laughs rather than any thoughtful comedy. One scene typifies, for me, how Morris does this: one of the protagonists tries to shoot down a spy-plane with a rocket launcher but he is unaware that he's holding the launcher back-to-front and he inadvertently blows up his colleagues instead. Funny? Perhaps a little, but given that the skit has been clearly telegraphed (the "Enemy this way" arrow on the launcher is clearly visible) and given that there are well documented examples of similar incidents *in real life*, it's a cheap laugh... and they're pretty much all like this.

So, instead of using satire to jab fundamentalists where it hurts, Morris is simply blowing a fat, wet raspberry at them; "Nyah nyah! You incompetent dupes!"

Look a little deeper, though and you *can* see the vestiges of a much more biting attack. The most deeply committed of the terrorists (Barry, played by Nigel Lindsay) is actually a "kuffar" who has converted to Islam (none so pure...). Omar (Riz Ahmed), the next most committed, leads a comfortable western (almost decadent) lifestyle, whereas his brother, who actually *is* (or at least looks like) an Islamic fundamentalist, is the peace-loving one. The scenes where Omar attempts to radicalise both his half-witted friend Waj (Kayvan Novak) and young son come about as close to real, touching tragi-comedy as the film gets. Of course, Morris can't help but take a pop at the cops as well who, surprise surprise, kill more innocents than terrorists.

So, what subtlety there is, is lost amid a few cheap laughs and plenty of crude stereotyping. It's poor, weak stuff and I can't help thinking that such serious, sensitive subject matter deserves a far better comedic treatment than Morris has given it. If you want to attack a serious or controversial subject with laughter (and I can't think of a better way of doing it - gallows humour is the best kind), make sure it really is funny. Monty Python, for instance, did a fine job on religious fundamentalism and terrorism in Life of Brian blending subtle humour, classic slapstick and pathos to create a classic.

I don't like Morris' brand of humour, but I think I can see what he was trying to do and I applaud it. Done well, it could have been a defining moment in British socio-political comedy and it's a crying shame that he didn't pull it off.
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