Take a Three Stooges short, add a black satire like Kubrick's Dr. Strangelove, then mix in a heist movie like Rififi. What you've got is Four Lions, the uproariously funny British comedy that dares to make fun of the people who have changed our lives so profoundly over the last 10 years: Islamic terrorists of the suicide-bomber variety.
Actually, a better heist movie might be Kubrick's The Killing, about plotters whose character flaws keep messing up the plan. The men who make up Four Lions' terrorist cell are, to a one, bumbling idiots. They squabble over what to blow up. The car they use to transport bomb-making materials is woefully unreliable. When they try to make one of those scary terrorist videos, they keep veering hilariously off script.
The group's leader is Omar (Rizwan Ahmed), who is to his cohort as Moe is to the rest of the Stooges: marginally more competent, but still not very bright. There also is slow-witted Waj (Kayvan Novak), the hopelessly terrible rapper Hassan (Arsher Ali) and Barry (Nigel Lindsay), a native Briton and Muslim convert who is at pains to demonstrate his commitment. "I am the most al-Qaeda one here," he insists.
Directed and co-written by English television veteran Chris Morris, Four Lions is a screen comedy that succeeds in just about every particular. I'd go so far as to call it Pythonesque, not least because the wordy futility of the terrorists' bickering reminds me of the squabbling revolutionaries in Life of Brian. A set piece in which the men try to wreak havoc at a marathon while wearing outlandish costumes (think: Ninja Turtle) had me laughing as hard as any film has in a long time.
There also is stupefying violence, and that is one reason the film's comedy is so dark. The violence sobers me, and it reminds me of what is at stake in the terrorism crisis. That diminishes my enjoyment of the farce a little. Yes, it's satisfying to see suicide bombers, who have caused so much death and suffering, portrayed as inept fools. But suicide bombers aren't famous for their ineptitude.