Friday, November 12, 2010

Four Lions

"Four Lions" is a sloppy movie that shows in every single scene that it is the work of someone experienced with television and not feature films. Christopher Morris is apparently very famous in England. I see from his IMDb page that he's only written and directed television shows, like "Nathan Barley" and "The Day Today." This is a great way to build up a fan base, but it may leave you out of touch with cinematic instincts. That's what's happened to Morris. For example, he uses a lot of establishing shots and thus makes the film come off as episodic. As I said in my review of "Hereafter," this reeks of a sitcom. A real filmmaker puts their faith in the audience and segues right in with regular shots.

But I wouldn't care about this as much if the film delivered. Let me tell you: it really doesn't. This is a British comedy and satire that is reported to produce many laughs. Nearly all of mine were forced. When these types of films don't work (like Winterbottom's "Tristam Shandy"), they can be very middling, and that's exactly what this is.

This film barely even has a plot: we follow a group of inane terrorists as they try over and over again to orchestrate a suicide bombing. Omar (Riz Ahmed) is very serious about it all, the most diehard of the group. Barry (Nigel Lindsay), a sometime panelist, is hellbent on blowing up a mosque so that he can get Muslims to rise up. Waj (Kayvan Novak) is basically a puppet, who can be easily swayed ideologically with the promise of going on theme park rides when he's in heaven. Fessal (Adeel Aktar) earnestly buys chemicals at the same store with "different voices," and one of the more minor members of the group. And finally, we have Hassan (Arsher Ali), who joins the group later on after he pulls an audacious but senseless stunt in the audience of one of Barry's talks. We follow them through their mishaps, in terrorist training camp, videotaping themselves, and sometimes just blowing up microwaves for good measure. This is all put together in a way devoid of sense, somehow not developing characters enough to really make us care about them. It must be said, though, that at a certain point, I stop finding people failing and arguing about silly stuff humorous. There are people that do like this kind of thing, and they will be satiated. However, they won't be enriched by a quality film experience.

When we get to the ending, set during the London Marathon, Morris doesn't flinch at surprising violence. But even this he ends up making repetitive. He struggles a bit with tone, which doesn't help. It's really not his business. He's in it for setting up the music and the image, as that's what I assume he does with his television programs.

Morris hits some nice marks with his jabs at the faulty ideology of the terrorists. They completely misunderstand the meaning of jihad. Omar feeds it both to Waj (through the whole theme park meme) and his own son (through a story about "The Lion King") in misleading ways. There is also the idea of "following your heart," which is brought up in a scene between Omar and Waj where Waj obviously has doubts and where Omar has to convince him that "his brain really is his heart."

I will finally speak of the acting, which is a maker or a breaker in a comedy. Sad to say that "Four Lions" gets let down on this front. Ahmed in the lead role admirably plays a straight man, but he's not very good at delivery of jokes and this costs the film. Also underperforming is Lindsay, who swings and misses when it comes to making an endearingly annoying character and ends up just with the latter half. I didn't much like Novak either and had mixed feelings about Ali (who is admittedly better than his lookalike Aasif Mandvi, which is not saying a whole lot). Good work is given in my opinion is by Aktar making a comical character out of Fessel (providing salvation like David Rasche did in "In the Loop"), but he's such a small part of the film that it really doesn't matter that much.

I don't tend to get into the groove of cult films that cause unstoppable laughter. That was why for me "Four Lions" was a dissatisfactory movie. It definitely has an audience, which you may be a part of. Speaking for myself, though... C

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