The British dark comedy Four Lions has gotten plenty of attention for its unconventional approach to controversial subject matter, and indeed it’s pretty daring of director and co-writer Chris Morris (a popular British TV satirist making his feature debut) to treat the subject of Islamic terrorism with this kind of goofy humor. But daring is pretty much all that Four Lions has, and once you get over the initial novelty of seeing a cell of Muslim terrorist-wannabes in Britain being portrayed as humorous buffoons, you’re left with a movie that alternates between lame sitcom-style gags and muddled social commentary.
Four Lions actually might have worked better as a sitcom, without the burden of building to a climax, which drags on tediously and obscures its characters’ motivations. Morris and his co-writers present some potentially fascinating figures, including group leader Omar (Riz Ahmed), a true believer and devoted family man who understands the realities of global politics far better than his comrades do. But while the movie ends with consequences that underline the seriousness of what these people are undertaking—even in their misguided, inept way—Morris offers only a superficial understanding of why these ordinary people have gotten involved in the first place.
Parts of Four Lions, especially involving militant white Muslim convert Barry (Nigel Lindsay), are fitfully funny, but the jokes aren’t clever enough to carry over the rough patches. The world needs more bold cinematic takes on terrorism, but just having that idea isn’t enough to make Four Lions a great movie.