Omar (Ahmed), a radicalised British Muslim, has formed a terrorist cell with his dim-witted brother Waj (Novak), angry white convert Barry (Lindsay) and apprehensive bomb-maker Fessal (Akhtar). While Omar and Waj are in Pakistan at a Mujahideen training camp, Barry recruits would-be rapper Hassan (Ali) to the group. Returning to Britain, Omar reveals his plans for a suicide bomb attack against an unexpected Western target.
Remember the terrorist who caught fire while ineffectually attacking Glasgow airport and was beaten up by a passing Scotsman? Would he still have been hilarious if he’d killed a few dozen people? Chris Morris’ funny drama — like much of his TV work, a little too nerve-wracking to be safely labelled a comedy — features a jihad that runs as smoothly as Captain Mainwaring’s defence of Walmington-on-Sea. These terrorists are fumbling, squabbling, inept and against-all-the-odds sympathetic — but Morris always remembers the danger they present to themselves and any civilians who wander into their blast range.
Four Lions — which has five main characters, suggesting that someone won’t make it to the jihad in time — doesn’t try to answer the question most often raised about the 7/7 plotters: why would young men who seem to have benefited from living in a multicultural Western nation want to kill themselves and any number of random strangers for some mutant notion of Islam? The outstandingly appalling convert Barry (Nigel Lindsay), furious when comrades remind him of his actual race by speaking Urdu, decrees that buying a Jaffa orange is tantamount to giving nukes to Israel — but his big idea is to radicalise moderates by blowing up a mosque, though he keeps forgetting the part about blaming the atrocity on the enemy. The lions make offhand remarks about “Jews and slags and that” but don’t seem especially oppressed or aggrieved by the sufferings of the Faithful around the world. In classic sit-com style, this group is together for personal reasons, more interested in private jokes and grudges that go back to the school playground than any great campaign against a Western Satan.
The heart of the film — which, in a running dialectic, keeps getting mixed up with the brain — is the bond between Omar (Riz Ahmed), who has a happy home life with a wife (Preeya Kalidas) and an adoring son, and his heroically stupid, yet tragically lovable brother Waj (Kayvan Novak), who he’s brainwashed into thinking martyrdom will be like the “Rubber Dinghy Rapids” ride at Alton Towers without the queues. Ahmed and Novak — like many British Asian actors, veterans of more than their share of terror-themed dramas — deliver comic gold in rambling, endearing, black-edged fraternal patter, through a perfectly timed foul-up at Mujahideen training to an emotional home stretch as Omar starts to feel guilty about what he has talked his brother into. It does jokes about the equally inept but better-resourced security forces (an innocent fun-runner is shot dead because a sniper can’t distinguish between a Wookiee and The Honey Monster) but, like the similarly pretend-rambling of In The Loop, keeps returning to comedy that comes from the characters rather than the satirical barbs.
Guaranteed to offend a lot of folks across the political and belief spectrum, but consistently funny and horribly to the point. A sit-com spin-off is probably not on the cards, though.