Four Lions: This is Spinal Tap for suicide bombers

Parenthood has seriously put a crimp in our moviegoing activities, but every now and again Alice and I get to go see something, and we always try to pick a good one. We scored big on Saturday night, with Chris Morris's Four Lions, a farce about British "homegrown terrorists" that had us squirming and laughing in equal measure.

Morris is legendary in the UK for his fearless send-ups of media scare-stories. Programs like Brass Eye (a TV series that hoaxed politicians and pop stars into condemning imaginary drugs, skewered pedophilia panic, and so forth) made his reputation as a prankster and searing critic of idiotic, media-fuelled popular delusions.

Homegrown terrorism is a perfect subject for Morris's scalpel and sledgehammer: here in the UK, "homegrown terrorism" has been the basis for laws prohibiting looking at certain website, laws allowing for secret spying, laws allowing for groundless stop-and-searches, laws suspending habeas corpus, and advertising campaigns encouraging Britons to go through each others' rubbish bins looking for evidence of bomb-making equipment.

But in Morris's Four Lions (as in real life), homegrown jihadism is real and alive -- and hopeless (also largely true to real life, where most of these nefarious supercriminals succeed primarily in killing themselves). Five suicide bombers conspire to blow themselves up to strike a blow for radical Islam against corrupt British society. Two travel to Pakistan for terrorist training (they don't fare very well -- unsurprising given that one of them is convinced that heaven is like the Rubber Dingy Rapids ride at the Alton Towers coaster park); in their absence, Barry, the white convert and super-radical, makes an even bigger hash of their domestic operation.

A recurring theme is the jihadis' attempt to make their martyrdom videos, presented as a series of bloopers as they repeatedly attempt to articulate their mission and its justification (one of the terrorists, Faisal, appears with a cardboard box over his head because his confused father has told him that having an image made of his is haram).

On the other side of the war on terror, the bulbs are no brighter. The crack anti-terrorism squads and stern government ministers match the jihadis for idiocy, incompetence, and incoherent ideology.

But it's not all broad caricature; by showing us the story from the bombers' perspective, Morris gets well into our discomfort zone (especially with the tender family scenes with Omar, the protagonist, whose loving wife and son are entirely supportive of his plan to kill himself). Picture Spinal Tap for suicide bombers and you'll get the picture.

Four Lions was the sort of movie that had us alternately laughing and covering our eyes, and we spent the whole weekend talking about it.

Four Lions


  1. Cory spent the whole weekend talking about it, and yet only watched it on a a Saturday night, midway through the weekend? Anticipation much?

    “Dozens of people spontaneously combust each year. It’s just not really widely reported.”

  2. Cutting edge stuff Cory. Next week, a review of exciting new chariot racing epic, Ben Hur.

    “we always try to pick a good one”

    Funny. Personally, I always root around for the really shit stuff.

    1. You sarcy, sarcy man.

      Cory’s blogging about it because, as he more or less made clear, he doesn’t get to the cinema much and he just saw this. It only came out a couple of months ago, and presumably won’t be well known to US readers.

      And you’d be surprised how many people routinely go and see films that they expect to be mediocre or all-out dross, just for the sake of going to the cinema.

  3. Always a fan of Chris Morris. I hope I don’t have to wait half a year to legitimately see it like I had to for In The Loop.

  4. I’d just like to add my own two cents by saying that I think calling it “Spinal Tap for Suicide Bombers” is maybe too simplistic and possibly misleading. Yes, the characters can be similarly buffonish and, like Spinal Tap, demonstrate a hilarious lack of self-awareness, but there’s more to this film than just laughing at idiots and the stupid things they say (although I admit I can’t go down the dairy aisle without screaming F*CK MINI BABYBEL now). Personally, I was completely caught off guard with the amount of pathos the film manages to generate for the characters and the way it intelligently and maturely handles this story. I’m sure a lesser director (Michael Bay? McG?) would have gone the easy route and played the whole thing just for laughs – arent the Jihadis bumbling idiots? aren’t their crazy beliefs CRAZY? – but Morris cleverly manages to make the characters likeable and sympathetic and does his best to show the complexity of the situation. The only thing I can compare it to is the third-act switcheroo of Shaun of the Dead where the comedy is suddenly pitch black and your heart breaks for these characters.

    Anyway, it’s a terrific film, however you want to look at it.

    1. yeah, the depth it reaches is highlighted by how it depicts Omar’s pacifist brother, the most fundamentalist of the lot (but thankfully they refrained from making him the good guy… lol @ his family in the cupboard), while Omar, the terrorist, isn’t even a particularly observant muslim.

  5. It’s not often that I find myself laughing out loud at a movie trailer. Can’t wait to see this.

  6. It’s probably just as well that Penn & Teller don’t go after “Islam.” The best comedy holds a bit of sympathy for its targets. Chris Morris apparently shows it here, while Penn & Teller have never shown any.

  7. Seriously though, what exactly is wrong with the first two posters?
    The guy is just trying to point us towards a movie he liked. Whats with all the hostility and sarcasm?

  8. The film is great, but the one character I didn’t understand was Omar’s wife. She’s intelligent, alert, rejects religious extremism and yet supports Omar’s mission.

  9. Anybody know if this is going to show or has already shown in San Francisco? I really want to see this. I love Chris Morris. I tried to find it a while ago and couldn’t. But I ask again now.

  10. Chris Morris: an English man who targets Muslims? For me this is an hint that he may be a right-wing ass*ole.

    1. At the risk of feeding a troll, he doesn’t “target Muslims”. Chris Morris makes fun of everyone.

  11. “Chris Morris: an English man who targets Muslims? For me this is an hint that he may be a right-wing ass*ole.”

    Yes, the best comedians are typically right-wing assholes; just as the Scots are know for their UV tolerance and tanning prowess.

  12. Terrific “mid-life kicker” review Cory. You get to the heart of why it’s so important in no time, and introduce it well to a US readership. AKAIK it hasnt got US release. I wonder if the film would need subtitles there? The Pakistani/Yorkshire accents are pretty uncompromising.

  13. @Anon17
    Morris, as a stand-up comedian, is pretty well known amongst other things for being outspokenly anti-fascist and anti-BNP (the racist British National Party). On his blog he has called for everyone to ring up the BNP’s freephone number and leave the phone off the hook.

  14. Creepy and yet humorous.
    @johnmcorg I agree Chris does make fun of everyone evenly. :)

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