By Mike Richardson
Last year enfant-terrible of British TV, Chris Morris produced a comedy about Doncaster-based suicide bombers. It was one of the funniest, and also one of the best, films I saw in 2010. If you don’t recognise his name you must have been boycotting news bulletins during the Brass Eye Series (1997) in which Morris mercilessly lampooned media frenzies on thorny issues such as sex, drugs (Cake, the made-up drug from Prague) and paedophilia. The results produced both hysterical laughter and laughable hysterics in equal measure. In an unsurprising step forward, Morris moved onto the “safe” subject of Islamic extremism as his next comedy topic.
The film recounts the keystone exploits of a mild bunch of would-be martyrs who, juiced up on playground bravado, decide to do something “significant” in the name of Allah. After rejecting suggested targets like the Internet, Ann Summers shops, Boots the Chemists and a Mosque, they decide that the London Marathon is a suitable and achievable goal.
Even though this film deals with an incendiary subject (blowing oneself up and murdering people in the name of religion), the most obvious cinematic comparison to draw is with The Full Monty (1997). Both films deal with a collection of simple Northerners who attempt a wild, impulsive gesture in the face of dissatisfaction. In The Full Monty the crew were unemployed Sheffield steel workers who, to make some money and to achieve on some level in the face of losing their jobs, drop their trousers to a Tom Jones track to the delight of a hall full of drunken housewives (with amusing consequences). In Four Lions, the lads are unhappy with the world as they see it and feel that martyrdom is the only answer. After failing to complete their Taliban Academy training (the Lion King inspired explanation for the war against the West is worth the price of the DVD in itself), the Lions decide to take matters into their own, over-sized, hands, make their mark and rejoice in the theme park amenities that the afterlife guarantees martyrs (with amusing consequences).
Four Lions is no thriller; it’s not about whether they succeed or not. Nor is it a critique of fundamentalism – the most fundamental Lion is Barry-the-white-one, and it’s not a film that debates the moral complexities of religious war either. It’s simply a comedy and it’s a very funny one. The big laughs: Fessel buying bomb-making ingredients using a variety of false voices; Waj claiming the toy gun he holds in his martyrs video only looks small because of his big hands and Barry’s character in general are, refreshingly, not achieved through cheap, Airplane / Life of Brian-esque gags. This is slow burn comedy in its purest form.
It is a credit to Morris as co-writer and director and his superb supporting cast, who improvised much of the script, that the comedy is never insulting to Islam nor to anyone who objects to religion-inspired murder. Many people from both camps seem to have failed to get the joke but anyone who is media savvy enough to look beyond the mania, the one that seeks to stop people watching this film, will be rewarded with a serious comedy.