If you think airport security screenings and TSA pat-downs are comically inept, get in line for Four Lions, a dangerously brilliant satire of Jihadi terrorism. The dark humor and underlying drama of Four Lions dives right into the heart of an Islamic terrorist cell in Britain — as if it were a spinoff of The Office. The opening scenes highlight the mixed motives of young Western Jihadis as Hassan (Arsher Ali) clumsily raps for his suicide-bomber videotape: "We're Muslim mean, and we're making terrible scenes/ Now you want to know what the boom boom means." He then references Tupac Shakur lyrics, clearly as unlikely to attain street cred as he is martyrdom. Another Jihadi rants about McDonalds and American corporate imperialism and drifts into plugging a local chicken shack chain that's halal-friendly. As the cell leader, Omar (Riz Ahmed) struggles to train, indoctrinate and keep the group from getting distracted, busted by police or blown up by their novice bomb-handling skills.
As funny as the bumbling Jihadis are (a near eastern version of The Young Ones), the film also has a soul in Omar, who ironically is the voice of reason, even as he twists Disney's Lion King into a Jihadi bedtime parable for his son.
Most of the group's problems, however, are internal. Barry (Nigel Lindsay), who seems like he'd make a better soccer hooligan, lobbies the group to bomb a mosque, reasoning that it would radicalize moderate British Muslims. Omar can neither follow his logic nor stomach killing Muslims, but in the strange world of trying to rationalize terrorism, the debate is absurd and cryptically funny.
But Four Lions doesn't settle for just making outrageous jokes, and both police and intelligence agents also are portrayed as lethally incompetent and misguided. No subject is taboo, from the killing of innocents to torture as an interrogation technique. Omar struggles heroically with the conflict between religious purity and political ideology as the logistics of their operation crash into absurdity. He's determined not to blink as he stares down the world's harsh truths and injustices. Director Chris Morris' equally unflinching approach makes Four Lions a brilliant and edgy satire. Tickets $7, $6 students/seniors, $5 Zeitgeist members. — Will Coviello
Thru Dec. 16
7:30 p.m. Wednesday-Monday; nightly through Dec. 16
Zeitgeist Multi-Disciplinary Arts Center, 1618 Oretha Castle Haley Blvd., 827-5858; www.zeitgeistinc.net