Before saying anything about Chris Morris’ new film, Four Lions, we have to get our heads round a basic question, “Is Al-Qaeda supposed to be funny?” If there really is a war against terror on, surely it could be, however disturbing the humour. Nobody walked out of Will Hay’s The Goose Steps Out (1942) because there was a war on — quite the reverse. However if you can’t or won’t see the funny side of Jihadism, this film is, frankly, not for you. Whether it should have been funny or not, thirty punters in Wycombe on Friday found it hilarious, with a steady stream of chuckles, and a belly laugh every twenty minutes or so.
Four Lions tells of the everyday lives and activities of four dim Jihadists, as they bungle and bomb their way around South Yorkshire, confusing themselves and occasionally foxing the neighbours. The surrreal humour is pure Spike Milligan. Our heroes’ Jihad is internal, mainly against their own stupidity.
It culminates in a tacky and mainly incompetent bid for immortality in London. Nothing in the Al-Qaeda lexicon is sacrosanct — martyrdom videos, training camps in Pakistan, explosions in public places.
It is necessary to suspend disbelief about the characters, who are very much cardboard cutouts; but then this is not a sympathetic exploration of the psychology of martyrdom so much as a rollicking send-up. As a matter of public policy, is this a fit subject for parody? Well, as a matter of public experience, what did for Mrs Thatcher was Spitting Image, not Michael Foot. Any young man joining Al-Qaeda after Four Lions is bound to take the rehtorical world of the organisation with a pinch of salt, and to feel that bit sillier and more exposed. It might even put him off. It’s a very different approach from the Government’s all-too earnest Violent Extremism programme, but probably more effective.
And anyone who can induce a couple of paroxysms of helpless mirth in three dozen of their fellow citizens about a thing like this on a Friday night in Wycombe can’t be all bad. Four and a half out of Five stars.