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"I guess when everybody shut up, like, 'he's never going to make a film' - then I'll make a film and, 'oh! It's a comedy about jihadists." - Chris Morris
Once upon a time, two brothers - a pair of Islamic-fundamentalist terrorists - hatched a plot to kill a Saudi royal prince in a suicide-bombing attack. Their chosen methodology was ingeniously simple: an explosive-loaded anal-suppository rather than a cumbersome dynamite belt, all the better to ensure that the martyr-to-be could approach his target unmolested.
Luckily for the prince, neither brother was an explosives expert. Upon detonation, rather than exploding outward the blast discharged, downward, propelling the Jihadist through the roof with a rectal blast like a human bottle rocket.
Admit it: That's really funny.
I learn this story from British comic/satirist Chris Morris of Brass Eye infamy. He, in turn, learned it as part of the research for his alarming, disturbing and scathingly hilarious new movie Four Lions, which approaches the time-tested subgenre of "stupid criminal" comedies from a dark, of-the-moment angle. Instead of bumbling bank robbers or comically inept hitmen, its villain protagonists are a uniformly idiotic Muslim terrorist cell living in suburban Sheffield.
Morris made a name for himself in the realm of fearless, pitch-dark social satire on British TV, but took a long time getting around to the feature film game, waiting for the right project. While researching the subject of terrorism, and lesser-known failed plots in particular, in the wake of the London Subway Bombing, Morris seems to come to the realization that a lot of these guys are just dumb.
"The human failings you recognize keep undermining the image we've built up. That was interesting, and I figure what's interesting must be funny." - Chris Morris
Unless you're a dedicated seeker of "the story behind the story," you generally only hear about two kinds of terrorist attacks: Successful attacks or attacks that "fail publically" (think the recent attempted car-bombing at Times Square.) Invariably, the failures of jihadists are described as having been "foiled" - terminology that conjures images of battle-ready superheroes like 24's Jack Bauer kicking down doors and diffusing warheads at the last possible moment.
But a deeper scan of military and intelligence records often paint a different picture, that of an enemy whose biggest impediment is its own membership - hordes of dim-witted, poorly-educated dopes with very little grasp on strategy or bomb making, and even less grasp on the actual tenets of the beliefs they're supposedly martyring themselves for.
The cell in the film, for example, isn't actually affiliated with any particular terror organization (their "audition" for Al Qaeda doesn't go very well) or even with any tangible branch of Islam. The members certainly aren't fundamentalists themselves, enjoying the fruits of Western decadence one moment then tripping over themselves to criticize assimilation the next ("Fuck mini Babybell!" blurts one, making individually-wrapped cheese snacks the object of his ire.) We don't see them pray, or go to mosque - and the nominal "leader" Omar is scorned for his jihadist views by his brother, an actual fundamentalist who's dedicated to peace (and, ironically, is under much more police scrutiny than Omar the full-fledged terrorist).
Like the rest of his men, Omar doesn't really have much grasp of his own professed religion, and seems to have arrived at jihad as a kind of warped heroic fantasy (he attempts to justify/explain his outlook to his son via a tortured metaphor about The Lion King.) His friend Feisal appears to be mentally-handicapped - in place of a Koran, he carries a preschool reader called The Cat Who Went To Mecca and imagines an afterlife of amusement park rides instead of virgins. Boisterous Barry is probably even less theologically sound, the sort of blustery moron who'd find a way to make trouble no matter what ideology he subscribed to. Another wants to train crows as avian suicide bombers, and still another seems to see jihad as "street cred" for his hip-hop career.