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Originally published Thursday, November 4, 2010 at 3:05 PM

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Movie review

'Four Lions': An ambitious, uneven farce about a gang of suicide bombers

"Four Lions," sold as the "Dr. Strangelove" of suicide-bomber movies, is a British farce starring Riz Ahmed as the charismatic leader of a terrorist gang that plans to attack the London Marathon.

Special to The Seattle Times

Movie review 2.5 stars

'Four Lions,' with Riz Ahmed, Kayvan Novak, Adeel Akhtar, Nigel Lindsay. Directed by Chris Morris, from a screenplay by Morris, Jesse Armstrong and Sam Bain. 101 minutes. Rated R for language, including some sexual references. Varsity.

Too soon? Nearly a decade after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the question is still being asked of filmmakers — especially if their intention is comic.

The British seem most comfortable with this approach, as last year's political satire "In the Loop" so sharply demonstrated. They're a little less sure of themselves with "Four Lions," an ambitious, uneven new farce that dares to mock the motives and personalities of four suicide bombers who plan to attack the London Marathon.

Leading the pack is Omar (Riz Ahmed), a charismatic father, husband and would-be soldier who puts up with a surprising amount of liberation talk from his no-nonsense wife. Waj (Kayvan Novak) follows Omar's advice even when he shouldn't. Faisal (Adeel Akhtar) is the gang's most enterprising bomb-maker.

The chief troublemaker, Barry (Nigel Lindsay), who has some very odd notions about the limits of "submission," undermines Omar by suggesting they blow up a mosque to get attention and frame their enemies. If innocents are killed, he argues, they'll become martyrs.

Much of the time the four men seem harmless, tolerated by Omar's wife and other outsiders, but their grandiose schemes (all part of "God's plan") eventually lead to real street violence. The film is being sold as the "Dr. Strangelove" of suicide-bomber movies.

The first-time director, Chris Morris, deftly mixes fact with fiction (he claims that much of the script is based on real jihadist mistakes). He once worked with "In the Loop's" director, Armando Iannucci, on "The Day Today," a British television series that's been compared to Jon Stewart's "The Daily Show."

The fake-news approach is similar, though Morris' chief contribution to "Four Lions" appears to be slapstick: a self-inflicted punch in the face, a car deliberately driven into a wall, even a bomb going off inside a clown suit. A more appropriate title might be "The Four Stooges."

John Hartl:

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