In the wake of the unimaginable Charlie Hebdo tragedy, there is arguably no more relevant film than “Four Lions.” This seriously is a real thing: It’s a satire whose protagonists are Muslim terrorists seeking to bomb the London marathon. And it’s a comedy — an extremely, sometimes sickeningly funny comedy. (Its best joke concerns a dead innocent bystander and Wookiees.) Amazingly its release, in 2010, met with relative quiet. Every time that it’s become accidentally, horrifically topical — as it was after the Boston Marathon bombings — the similarities to real life have been perhaps too creepy to make one want to give it a watch.
And yet it exists not only to find “Dr. Strangelove”-ian fun in a deeply unfunny subject, but also to help us better understand a prickly topic. The drawings run by Charlie Hebdo have come under scrutiny by some as being sometimes racist, or at least witless. (That said, they were often spot-on.) “Four Lions,” however, is hardly your bigoted uncle’s Islamaphobia. It goes out of its way to show its chief group as ill-informed, in some cases flat-out stupid extremists who’ve succumbed to a group delusion. They’re amateurs fumbling badly at seeming big league; they struggle to record convincingly chilling taped messages and, when they nab a gig at a far-off terrorist training camp, succeed only in blowing up their fellow would-be martyrs.(That said, it doesn’t let women-hating devout Muslims off the hook, though it does show them as obsessed with football, not jihad.)
“Four Lions” was a longtime project for Chris Morris. One of England’s most savage and hilarious satirists, he previously courted mega-controversy with a special episode of his fake news show “Brass Eye” that lampooned panic over pedophilia. “Four Lions” is strangely semi-warm towards its foolish antiheroes, who don’t seem to understand the gravity of the tragedy they’re looking to foment. The scariest observation in the film may be that groups like one that massacred the staff of Charlie Hebdo aren’t brilliant strategists but idiots who just got, if you will, lucky. It may feel too soon to watch “Four Lions,” but you always need a laugh, especially now. Should we mention it includes a brief, very funny appearance by everyone’s favorite ubiquitous English sex god, Benedict Cumberbatch?
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