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“Four Lions,” Reviewed

“Four Lions,” Reviewed (photo)

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This review originally ran as part of our coverage of the 2010 Sundance Film Festival.

“Four Lions,” the slippery first feature from British comedian/provocateur/fearless satirist Chris Morris, is going to win the above title by default. Few films indeed are willing to combine terrorism and comedy — I’ve always entertained a soft spot for the train wreck that is Paul Weitz’s “American Dreamz” just for trying.

So, infinite points to “Four Lions” for the sheer audacity of its premise, which is made to enrage — four would-be jihadists living in northern England bumble their inept way through ideology, training camp, bomb-making and actual attempted acts of terrorism. But here’s the thing: “Four Lions” isn’t always a comedy, per se — there are parts that are very funny, but just as many parts that linger on, deliberately and uncomfortably treading the outskirts of a joke without ever getting to it, as if taking audiences to task for thinking themselves worldly enough to want to find laughs in this movie.

The cell is made up of Omar (Riz Ahmed), the smartest and most competent member (though the bar’s set awfully low); Barry (Nigel Lindsay), the blustering Walter Sobchak-esque rage-filled convert who often challenges Omar’s place; Fessal (Adeel Akhtar), the stupid one; Waj (Kayvan Novak), the even stupider one; and latecomer Hassan (Arsher Ali), who’s a bit of a dilettante.

The start of the film offers the intriguing read that, for these men, jihadi culture offers the same kind of appeal as gangster rap — a sense of rebellion, purpose, masculinity and overall bad-assery. They’re not particularly devout — in contrast to Omar’s much-mocked brother.

When they talk about their motivations, what comes out is a garble of “Western this” and “chain store that,” which is hardly reflected in how they live their lives (the bedtime story Omar tells his son is the plot of “The Lion King”). Mostly, they like the self-importance, and they like posing with guns — they meet in a shabby apartment above a shop and try to shoot appropriately threatening videos of themselves.

Things change when Omar and Waj, thanks to a family connection, are sent to Pakistan for actual training, something they’re hilariously unsuited for — a stunt involving a rocket thrower, the film’s comic highlight and one of its best revisited jokes, gets them sent back to the UK, where an embarrassed Omar lies that they returned with a mission to take action. They make preparations, power struggles within the group ensue, and the future of the boys’ suicide bombing mission gets called into question — oh no!

Oh, wait.

As there’s increasing fallout from the plan, “Four Lions” seems less willing to try to wring laughs out of what’s happening, and instead turns to needling the genre to which the film technically belongs — the “Full Monty”esque dramedy about how a group of losers succeeds in an unlikely field against all odds. Take the scene in which Omar, having left the cell, discouraged, gets cheered up by his smiling wife, the film’s most problematic character by a mile. She tells him he was much more fun when he was trying to blow things up, and that he should go back there and show them who’s boss. There’s no punchline; it’s played straight, a mirror of a dozen similar scenes that we’ve seen in movies before, only in this case she’s given him the go-ahead to presumably kill as many people as possible while in the process of leaving her alone to raise their child.

What does it mean? The world of the film is realistic even as the guys tend towards cartoonishly bungling, which makes a scene like that one extraordinarily difficult to pin down. And even more so is the end sequence, a tragedy played out in the madcap trappings of crowds, costumes, cellphone mishandlings and chases through cafes.

If I had to lay it out, I’d say “Four Lions” is intended to be, not a jihad satire, but a satire of the idea of a jihad satire, of the belief that humor of even the edgiest variety can effectively be troweled on to any topic to make it accessible, to humanize or defang it.

Or maybe I’m overreaching. What I am certain of is that “Four Lions”, comedy or not, is a genuine odd duck of a film.

“Four Lions” opens in limited release November 5th.

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The Best Of The Last

Portlandia Goes Out With A Bang

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The end is near. In mere days Portlandia wraps up its final season, and oh what a season it’s been. Lucky for you, you can watch the entire season right now right here and on the IFC app, including this free episode courtesy of Subaru.

But now, let’s take a moment to look back at some of the new classics Fred and Carrie have so thoughtfully bestowed upon us. (We’ll be looking back through tear-blurred eyes, but you do you.)

Couples Dinner

It’s not that being single sucks, it’s that you suck if you’re single.

Cancel it!

A sketch for anyone who has cancelled more appointments than they’ve kept. Which is everyone.

Forgotten America

This one’s a “Serial” killer…everything both right and wrong about true crime podcasts.

Wedding Planners

The only bad wedding is a boring wedding.

Disaster Hut

It’s only the end of the world if your doomsday kit doesn’t include rosé.

Catch up on Portlandia’s final episodes on demand and at IFC.com

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Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.

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Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

It’s the final countdown to Christmas and thanks to IFC’s movie marathon all Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, you can revel in classic ’80s films AND find inspiration for your last-minute gifts. Here are our recommendations, if you need a head start:

Musical Instrument

Great analog entertainment substitute when you refuse to give your kid the Nintendo Switch they’ve been drooling over.

Breakfast In Bed

Any significant other or child would appreciate these Uncle Buck-approved flapjacks. Just make sure you’re not stuck on clean up duty.

Cocktail Supplies

You’ll need them to get through the holidays.

Dance Lessons

So you can learn to shake-shake-shake (unless you know ghosts willing to lend a hand).

Comfy Clothes

With all the holiday meals, there may be some…embigenning.



Get even more great inspiration all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC, and remember…