Arch satirist Chris Morris specialises in cruel, creepy but sometimes brilliant work that’s artfully designed to offend as many people as possible. Unfortunately Morris is at his most obvious and least brilliant or artful with his feature film debut Four Lions (2010), an already-notorious broad comedy about a group of inept suicide bombers who hatch a plot to blow up the London Marathon. Though furnished with plenty of de rigueur pseudo-doc camera-work, the roots of the movie would seem to lie in Ealing comedy and Monty Python. But, overlooking for a moment the tastelessness of the scenario, the film turns out to be a rather lame and laboured piece of work. Morris and his co-writers (Peep Show scribes Jesse Armstrong and Sam Bain) seem so pleased with the daring of their premise that they expect the jokes to take care of themselves. Much of the audience seem to agree that they have, and maybe at some deep subconscious level the film fulfils a need to laugh in the face of one of the greatest of contemporary panics. The problem is that a couple of inspired moments do not a great comedy make. Four Lions doesn’t have enough good ideas to sustain its running time; by the final, spectacularly uncomfortable sequence, the film seems as misguided - and as stupid - as its protagonists.
Morris does succeed in getting solid turns out of his main actors: Riz Ahmed (of Rage - now if only that truly transgressive movie had received some of the attention that this one’s getting…), Abdeel Akhtar, Kayvan Novak, Nigel Lindsay and Arsher Ali work well with the often shoddy material. And he certainly skewers the lunacy of this group of regionally-accented radicals who hate the West but whose cultural reference points - from Alton Towers to The Lion King - are almost all either British or American. But the “Let’s blow up Boots” banter - not to mention the more “risqué” quips about “Jews and slags” - quickly pall; they just aren't funny enough.
Morris is also careless in his handling of the subsidiary characters, most of whom simply go to waste: Julia Davis turns up as - what else but? - a dim-wit neighbour, and she’s not given a single funny thing to do or say. Four Lions is the kind of comedy in which almost everyone - terrorist, police marksman and negotiator alike - are dim-wits; for all its alleged edginess the film lets the audience rest pretty comfortably in its sense of its superiority to everybody on display. Morris seems to think that the spectacle of self-styled jihidis bumbling and squabbling is inherently hilarious. By the end, he seems to bank on the fact that we’ll find the spectacle of these guys blowing themselves (and a few other people) up inherently hilarious as well. That’s a big ask; too big, in the opinion of this viewer.