Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Four Lions

 May 30, 2012

Four Lions (2010) ***
Directed by Christopher Morris

My tweet:

Four Lions (2010)- Writer/director Christopher Morris is smart & funny. Too bad he made a lazy film. Cartoonish w/ some good laughs *** of 5

Other thoughts:

Four Lions is profoundly politically incorrect on its surface. Within a decade which shot Islamic terrorism to the forefront of Americans' minds, this cartoonish comedy asks us to enjoy spending time with a group of five terrorists. It almost seems like that conceit would be bound to fail in this day and age. After watching Four Lions, I'd find it hard to believe that anyone could really be offended by this film except maybe Islamic terrorists themselves who probably wouldn't be watching anyway. I imagine regular Muslims would view the characters as such bumpkins that they couldn't even see them as real people, let alone Muslims. Thus, writer/director Christopher Morris walked that difficult balance beam successfully.

On the other hand, walking that other balance beam between a good film and a bad film, Morris really struggles to find his center of gravity. From the very beginning, it's clear that nothing in the world within Four Lions actually exists in any sort of dimension rooted in logic and truth. Most of the characters are simply vessels through which aggressive one liners, comic rants and buffoonery are hurled at the audience. Some of them land quite effectively. The mastermind behind the plan for the group to blow themselves up is forced to communicate with the others through a children's chat room where everyone has an avatar of a puffin bird because he believes that the feds will never expect that. When another character's car breaks down at an inopportune time, he claims that all the parts in his car are Jew parts. Another character asks how part of a car can be Jewish. The response is that Jews made spark plugs to control global trafficking.

I laughed loudly a handful of times, and, given that the film is an hour and forty minutes, I guess that's good enough, but just barely. Sadly, the laziness with which Morris constructed this world did bother me. If a filmmaker purposefully does not establish rules to follow, then he or she could really do anything at all. If you can do anything, then you run the risk of putting absolutely no effort into the narrative and the story structure. Morris must have spent all his time on the uneven humor. Too many jokes are really juvenile, which would be okay if some of them were funny. One character mentions that another character initiated him into the group by something involving urination. I felt like I was back in the locker room in middle school. As is the case with any broad comedy, the jokes that don't land stand out so much more. If a storyteller yells the entire story, you'll definitely hear the good parts, but you'll also be forced to hear the unpleasant parts in an unpleasant way.

The final sequence doesn't work at all. It's repetitive and tonally inconsistent. Also, there's a scene early on where one of the terrorists talks to his son using The Lion King as a way to possibly prepare his son for the reality of what the father is going to do. This scene should have been cut since its sentimental tone comes out of nowhere. Morris really needed to tighten up the many loose ends if he wanted a more consistently successful final product. Perhaps Morris was afraid to add truth to Four Lions fearing that he might offend Muslim viewers. If that's the case, then for a film that prides itself as being politically incorrect, Morris decided to be quite politically correct, and Four Lions suffered as a result.