"Philip Roth once said that the extreme nature of contemporary experience had done the novelist's work," writes Nick Fraser in a piece for the Observer on Four Lions, which Jeremy Kay describes in the Guardian as "Chris Morris's dark comedy about a hapless British gang of wannabe suicide bombers plotting death and destruction in London." Fraser: "To say that I found Morris's film disquieting would be an understatement. I wondered whether it was funny, even when I did laugh. I also couldn't decide whether the effort wasn't somehow misguided, whether I shouldn't conclude, reluctantly perhaps, that some subjects like jihadism can't - and shouldn't - be turned into jokes."
Kay: "Morris's brilliant work on The Day Today, Brass Eye and Blue Jam set the bar vertiginously high and his first foray into movie writing and directing arrives saddled with expectations. The story - which follows a Sheffield-based gang as they train, bicker, strategise, bicker, bicker some more and finally set off to London on their dastardly mission - is by and large engaging, and occasionally very funny. But you get the sense that the demands of cinema, namely a longer run time and the need for a linear, conservative story structure, have coerced Morris into sacrificing his anarchic vision in favour of a curry of not entirely complementary flavours."
IFC's Alison Willmore argues that "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.... 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."
"Shot with a handheld documentary style, Four Lions contains an engine of rapid-fire dialogue reminiscent of last year's hit British satire, In the Loop," suggests Eric Kohn at indieWIRE (and he isn't the only one). "Similar to that movie's wink-and-nod snapshot of political mismanagement, situational comedy meets a dramatic counterpoint. The quartet of Islamic radicals in Morris's movie fully believe in the vitality of their mission, which serves to create a grave undertone throughout the story. They seem so likable - so like us! - that the impending possibility of their collective demise creates an almost unbearable tension."
"Daring and potentially offensive, this hilarious satire may be too biting for its own good," writes David D'Arcy in Screen.
It's getting good grades at the AV Club, though. A B+ from Noel Murray ("It's no masterpiece. But more often than not, it is pretty brilliant") and an A- from Nathan Rabin ("Four Lions has the makings of a cult classic").
A film like this would be "utterly unimaginable in America," finds Salon's Andrew O'Hehir, "But it's a first-rate example of the self-lacerating, take-no-prisoners current in British comedy."
Update, 1/26: Scott Weinberg at Cinematical: "[J]ust when you think Four Lions is nothing but rapid-fire (and frequently profane) banter about the inner workings of a terrorist plot with lots of exotic slang thrown about, the film throws you something unexpectedly warm, insightful, or just plain weird. Some may sense tonal shifts that contradict one another. Others, like me, see a film that's intent on keeping you on your toes."
Updates, 1/27: "Four Lions is a comedy that turns tragic by pushing the logic of terrorism to its breaking point," writes Dennis Lim in SUNfiltered. "Which is not the same as making terrorism 'safe' for satire. Quite the contrary: Morris is all too aware that humor has its limits, as you realize in the movie's gutsy final act, when the bloodshed begins and the laughs start to catch in your throat."
Listening. At GreenCine Daily, Aaron Hillis talks with Morris about "his brilliant new film, the real-life absurdities he discovered in his research, his 2007 lashing-out at novelist Martin Amis on the topic of Muslims, and the most trouble he's ever gotten into for a joke."