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Eugene Weekly : Movies : 2.10.11

Men with Bombs

Uneven Four Lions skewers band of bungling terrorists

by Molly Templeton

FOUR LIONS: Directed by Chris Morris. Written by Chris Morris, Sam Bain and Jesse Armstrong. Cinematography, Lol Crawley. Editor, Billy Sneddon. Starring Riz Ahmed, Arsher Ali, Nigel Lindsay, Kayvan Novak and Adeel Akhtar. Alamo Drafthouse Films, 2010. R. 102 minutes.

Four Lions sounds pretty good on paper: A dark British farce about a bumbling would-be terrorist cell with a screenplay boasting one of the writers of the sharp In the Loop, last years invective-laden political satire. The poster displays 15 matching blurbs, all of which proclaim Four Lions "funny.” And it is, in fits and starts that play out like loosely connected sketches rather than pieces of a coherent whole. When Chris Morris film is funny, its very, very funny, provided you're inclined to laugh at a stream of colorful insults and the kind of idiotic maneuvers that are likely to get would-be terrorists killed at their own inept hands.

The would-be terrorists are generally as dumb as a box of rocks. They argue about the size of a gun in one members hands as they shoot a video; the resulting footage is too embarrassing for Omar (Riz Ahmed), the skittish leader, to show his wife without making excuses. (Theyre outtakes, he explains awkwardly.) They want to blow things up, but theres some dissent as to what the most appropriate target might be. Barry (Nigel Lindsay), a convert to Islam, would like to raze a mosque in hopes of radicalizing the moderates. Omar would rather not, but he cant pin down his goals beyond being sure their target should be something more important than a pharmacy. The brains and the heart of the operation, Omar is too smart to be following this destructive path but too sure its the right thing to do to consider any alternatives. Omar uses characters from The Lion King to explain himself to his son and refuses to control his wife, but his political side is about as sophisticated as that of a college freshman whos just realized the crushing fact that much of the world isnt fair. Which, to be fair, is part of the films point ãbut mostly, Four Lions point is more soft than sharp.

As a loose, winking take on the idea that fanatics are as likely to be bungling nincompoops as evil masterminds, Morris film has its moments. Explosives and weapons lend themselves to more than a few snatches of sly slapstick, and Omars position as the only faintly intelligent man among a posse of imbeciles (particularly Kayvan Novak as the endearingly dumb Waj) gives him the chance to let fly with some truly colorful insults. The plain audacity of making a comedy about a gaggle of hapless terrorists gives Morris and his writers a little wiggle room, but they play too loose with the tone, which starts to seesaw wildly toward the end.

Four Lions develops as a series of unfortunate and often deeply, horribly funny events that become more and more unfortunate and less and less funny as the film draws to a close (one incident with a Wookie costume notwithstanding). The message is clear ã even these idiots can effectively blow things up ã but the film stumbles as it shifts from farce into something darker and heavier. More a gentle poke in the ribs (with a few belly laughs) than anything approaching a skewering (of terrorists, of the culture they ostensibly are working against), Four Lions suffers from the same uncertainty that infects its characters: No one quite knows exactly what theyre on about, but eventually, somethings sure to explode.ew

Four Lions opens Friday, Feb. 11, at the Bijou.