Netflix has a bad habit of lying to me. Four Lions is dark? Please. Four Lions couldn’t pass a brown paper bag test. It might be hilarious, but it’s not black.
Here is why.
I admit that black humor is a complicated beast. It gets easy to quickly characterize things as black or not based on the content of the humor. The problem with this is obviously that humor isn’t so much content, as it is delivery. Four Lions certainly has a black concept: a story about Pakistani would-be suicide bombers? Yeah, that sounds black enough in theory. But wait. Do we want them to succeed? Probably not. Do they succeed? Spoiler alert: nope.
So that isn’t really funny.
Nabokov’s Lolita wouldn’t be a black comedy if Humbert Humbert didn’t get laid. Dr. Strangelove wouldn’t be a black comedy if the fourth plane was accounted for and everyone was saved.
I’d like to share a quote from my well loved copy of Davis’ The World of Black Humor:
Black Humor in its specifically satirical moments was and is savage, brooking no compromise with its subject.
That is where the problem lies with Four Lions. Sure, just like Dr. Strangelove, it strives to make light of an issue that plagues our time. And yet, when it had the chance to follow in Kubrik’s sadistic footsteps, it instead falls pathetically short. The audience breathes a deep sigh of relief as the poor stupid Pakis fail to blow up anything except themselves. Lame.
The only thing that would have made Four Lions a black comedy is if it had ended with a lot of innocent deaths. Of course, then it would have offended all the humorless people who hate art and it would have sold fewer copies and it certainly wouldn’t have earned itself an Audience Award.
Four Lions successfully found a subject that was truly absurd. Off to a good start. They developed a script that was equally absurd and filled with a certain dry humor that digs beneath the skin. Keep going, you’re doing great. Finally, they tied it all together with a goofy ending that would make any God-fearing Fox News viewer proud.
Still, it is hilarious. Lots of people do get blown up. Clumsy suicide bombers die meaningless deaths. And the group’s token idiot takes a picture of himself to confirm that it isn’t his confused face. I laughed hard at this movie. Especially the Jihadist version of The Lion King that one suicide bomber delivers to his son as he tries to rationalize lying to his fellow Pakistani suicide bombers about the Afghans that he accidentally killed in the desert in a freak accident.
This is a movie worth watching. Not just for the laughs, but because it helps draw a nice line in the sand between dark comedies and funny movies with macabre elements.