“Dumb and Dumber” with a Jihadist Face

Waj, one of the dimwitted aspirants to martyrdom depicted in “Four Lions” poses here with a toy AK-47.By Sterling C. Beard

There are many things I expected to do at Dartmouth. Laughing at a jihadi sprinting through the streets of London attempting to evade law enforcement while dressed as a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle was not one of them.

All right, let me back up. “Four Lions” is a film by British satirist Chris Morris that falls into the rare genre of jihad satire. It follows a collection of radicalized British Muslims as they attempt to carry out a bombing attack and make themselves into martyrs. Unfortunately for them, they’re as competent as most Darwin Awards candidates.

The film begins with the dim-witted Waj sitting in front of a video camera with a toy AK-47 in his lap. His compatriots berate him for using such a ridiculous miniature, objecting to its size. His solution? Move closer to the camera, thereby obscuring his head. Bickering immediately results and the audience is practically told right up front what they’re in for. Yes, this is a film about terrorism. Moreover, it’s a film about idiots attempting to carry it out. It’s the Keystone Cops as Al-Qaeda. 

The cell—such as it is—is composed of four members: the everyman Omar, the aforementioned Waj, the explosives “expert” Faisal and the fanatical Barry. 

Omar, the group’s leader, seems to have all the trappings of a modern British lifestyle: a nice home, a loving wife and kid, a concerned brother, internet, television, et cetera. One night during his shift as an afterhours security guard at a mall, he receives an e-mail from an “uncle in Pakistan” and he and Waj swiftly find themselves in a training camp, dodging American drones and wearing out their welcome. Meanwhile, Barry, a white convert who is naturally the most bloodthirsty member of the group, has recruited Hassan, a student with a fondness for poorly constructed jihad themed rap.

Waj and Omar return from Pakistan, fleeing after accidently launching a rocket into a large group of their compatriots. What follows from there are the cell’s attempts at bomb making and a series of moronically dreamt up plots. Barry wants to bomb a mosque in order to radicalize the moderates and speed up the end of days. Faisal thinks he can create a squadron of kamikaze crows. 

What you’re getting here is a fairly standard “bunch of guys” comedy, a halal version of “The Hangover.” That’s not a bad thing; all of the actors possess excellent comic timing and deliver their lines in the fine tradition of deadpan, British black comedy. Here, Nigel Lindsay is a standout, playing the paranoid convert Barry with a wild-eyed mania, replete with streams of profanity and crackpot theories on how to avoid surveillance—eating his cell phone’s SIM card, for example—to why his car keeps breaking down (“The parts, they’re Jewish!” he screams when his vehicle gives out on the way back to their headquarters). Still, odds are you’ve seen this show already. 

The familiarity with the formula allows you to sit back and observe several things about their environment: these men aren’t what most of us picture when we think of terrorists. Instead of a group of deadly murderers running around the mountains of Afghanistan, you have a crew of casually dressed fellows from Sheffield who sing along to “Dancing in the Moonlight” while driving down the motorway to London. These men fully understand British culture, have no problem enjoying its fruits, but have rejected it to martyr themselves. It’s hard not to think about the Times Square bomber Faisal Shahzad (the movie premiered in Britain months before his attempted attack, leading to the ironic coincidence that Shahzad was arguably more incompetent than the character).

Another thing that pops up throughout the film is how positively thick the regular Brits are. No matter how suspicious the crew acts, no matter how many dumb stunts they pull, the common folk seem oblivious. Omar’s fellow night shift guard sees nothing odd about the group sprinting through the streets like ducks, carrying thick bags. Most egregious is Alice, the woman who lives next door to their HQ. The cell returns to find that Hassan has let her in and both are singing along to a song. When asked to leave, she comes to the inexplicable conclusion that they’re all gay. Mind you, this is in full view of the bomb making materials spread throughout the room. One wonders if they’re just as stupid as the erstwhile heroes or if they just don’t want to see the obvious. 

The world needs more of this, more jihad parody. We used to have cartoons where Bugs Bunny bested Hitler but nowadays we have only Jeff Dunham and “Achmed the Dead Terrorist.” If you can laugh at something, you rob it of its power. Here’s hoping this is just the beginning of a wave.