Ever hear that tale about the pub full of professional comedians? They all memorize this book of jokes so completely that they recite them by page number. One says “twenty-three” and the room roars with laughter, another counters with “sixty-eight” to an even louder applause. When the place settles a man bursts through the front door and exclaims “Sixteen!” only to receive disapproving looks. The joke is fine, but his timing is all wrong.
Four Lions is a curious case of desperate filmmaking. Its characters are enjoyable and its concept well intended, but this comedy is without an intelligent approach. It’s a mostly uninspired hour and a half portrayal of attention seeking would-be satirical Stooges.
The only context in which I’ve read about this film has been in regards to the supposed controversy attached to it, but I wonder if bumbling jihadists are actually taboo anymore. I find its only offensive nature is in the ability to waste my time, and the sort of super-sensitive element that might disagree probably has bigger fish to fry than a cheaply produced UK film.
Yes its protagonists are terrorists, but only barely of any religion. They wish to sacrifice themselves more to gain favor in the eyes of each other rather than their God, which they curiously refer to as God and not Allah. Perhaps that isn’t so unusual but it seemed odd to me that the Islamic faith is only distinctly assumed by some of the peaceful supporting characters, almost as if to distance the religion from its radicals. The film does little to educate the viewer on any of the political and social issues referenced in its sketch commentary.
No stranger are the heavy departures from believability, such as a character being so dumb he doesn’t know the difference between a chicken and a rabbit. He doesn’t appear to be mentally disabled so this is a little bit of a stretch. An even worse example has police snipers picking off innocent civilians thinking they might be our protagonists, and then wasting a few minutes discussing the difference between Chewbacca and a Bear, referring to the various costumes at a charity marathon in danger of being attacked by slapstick jihadists.
Exploding animals and vacant facial expressions are the sort of thing you suffer through watching Four Lions. The movie feels like one of the more recent seasons of Saturday Night Live. One tunes in because it is relevant to one’s interest in comedy. Four Lions teases that viewer with the thought of a better irreverent comedy that they dream of someday watching.
Or maybe they’ve already seen it. Even at its laziest, South Park manages to more sharply jab at mixed signals in the brains of the fundamentalists. A better comparison though, would be the humanity-at-its-lowest hijinks of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, played to the documentary style camerawork and sleep inducing dryness of The Office, if the Office lacked Gervais/Carell.
That’s not to say The Office is without comedic performances without its flagship role, and you’ll find the same here if you watch Four Lions. The cast occasionally handles the humor properly, especially in the dominant Barry “Azzam Al-Britani” character, a soccer hooligan who yearns to be viewed as capable. It’s still never enough to make this film unique, and a montage of tacked-on cutting-room-floor soundbytes accompanying the end credits only make things worse.
Overall Score: 4.65 – Terrible. (4s are terrible in many ways. They’re bad enough that even diehard fans of its genre, director, or cast still probably won’t enjoy it at all, and everyone else will leave the theater incredibly angry. Not only are these not worth renting, you should even change the TV channel on them in the future.)
If you absolutely love every moment in every episode of every television show mentioned in my review, and just can’t live without more of the same, then Four Lions might be exactly what you want, but like The Office you should be watching it on Hulu with limited commercial interruption, not making a night of it plus popcorn.