Starring: Riz Ahmed, Nigel Lindsay, Arsher Ali, Kayvan Novak, Adeel Akhtar
Rated R for Language Throughout, including Some Sexual References
When renowned comics author Frank Miller created a comic about defeating Osama bin Laden (this was prior to bin Laden's death), it courted controversy. In reply, Miller said, "Superman punched out Hitler. So did Captain America. That's one of the things they're there for...These are our folk heroes. It just seems silly to chase around the Riddler when you've got al Qaeda out there."
I think Chris Morris, the co-writer/director of "Four Lions," would agree with that. He's using comedy to deal with terrorism. The problem is that it's just not very funny, and more often than not, deadly boring.
The terrorists are Omar (Ahmed), the ringleader, Barry (Lindsay), the convert, Waj (Novak), the moron, and Faisal (Akhtar), the weirdo. They're later joined by Hassan (Ali), who may be an undercover cop. They want to become martyrs, but they can't decide what to blow up. But there is a far greater concern for them: they don't have a single brain-cell between them.
The concept of "Four Lions," following a group of would-be terrorists who are the poster children of ineptitude, is edgy enough to work. It all comes down to the execution, and Morris botches it. For the most part it is just a series of comic sketches that go on for far too long. "Borat" worked because it moved on after delivering the punchline. That's not the case here, with some comic scenes going on for minutes. It's not as bad as Seth Rogen repeating himself for thirty seconds straight, but there are times when it comes close.
I think that the fault has to lie with Morris and his script, because the actors do well with what they have. Riz Ahmed, a young British actor who is working his way up the ladder (he was Jake Gyllenhaal's assistant in last year's underrated "Nightcrawler"), does the best that he can playing the smartest member of the group (considering the utter lack of intelligence by his comrades, that's not saying much). Nigel Lindsay is solid as the convert with anger issues and an inability to see the obvious flaw with his idea to blow up a mosque. Kayvan Novak plays the funniest character, but that's because he's playing someone who is so stupid that at one point, he doesn't know if he's confused. Arsher Ali and Addel Akhtar round out the cast.
The film is glacially paced. It moves sooooooo slowly. That is death for a comedy, where pacing and timing are absolutely essential. There are definitely some amusing moments, such as bickering between the group, or an attempt to take out a drone with a rocket launcher goes fatally wrong. But those are a few moments amid a lot of material that simply doesn't work. And the fact that the movie is filmed on really cheap video does not help matters.
Then there's the curious decision of how to present the characters. Usually, the characters (even those who aren't a part of the main crew) are so moronic that we laugh at them. And yet, there are times, like in the scenes where Omar is shown to be a loving husband and father, where he portrays them sympathetically. It's a little disturbing.
This is one of those movies that is as much of a disappointment as it is a bad movie because it could have been so great.