Four Lions is a wayward, fitful attempt at incisive comedy.
Finding humor in Four Lions is like searching for a weapon of destruction in Iraq -- where is it? Relating Four Lions to the brilliant Dr. Strangelove (1964) -- as some have -- is like relating a firecracker to a nuclear weapon. And the firecracker sometimes doesn't even go off.
There are some poofs of comedy but nothing potent or authentically provocative.
Four Lions is the story of four jihadists who are witless and incompetent.
Four Lions is like the Three Stooges Bomb. Hear the Stooges swear in Punjabi and Urdu and poke a fellow terrorist in the eye. I can take the Stooges or leave them. When they are dull terrorists, I leave them.
When one looks at effective comedy, it almost always has distinctive personality. Where are actor/writer Simon Pegg and director/writer Edgar Wright when we need them? They created the inventive, engaging films Hot Fuzz (2007) and Shaun of the Dead (2004). Personality abounded.
Or where is John Cleese and his fellow manic comedians in Monty Python's Flying Circus?
The characters in Four Lions are one-dimensional. In comparison, they make the Stooges seem busting with personality.
Riz Ahmed plays Omar, an average man. Kayvan Novak (Waj) and Adeel Akhtar (Faisal) play negligible characters. The worst performance is by Nigel Lindsay as an Englishman who is a terrorist. His one "talent" is screaming. He wouldn't even make the road-show Stooges.
One Simon Pegg is worth much more than all of them together.
Director/writer Chris Morris and his fellow writers have concocted what basically is a sketch comedy. It might have helped to end each sketch with a black-out.
But Four Lions is not a black comedy. It isn't even shades of gray.
It's just gray.
For a change of pace, you might want to listen to interviews that I conducted in the 70s and 80s, some of which were published in my book Voices from the Set: The Film Heritage Interviews (2000).
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