If the Three Stooges tried to carry out their own Islamic jihad, the results could not be funnier than "Four Lions," director Chris Morris' wonderfully absurdist nightmare about terrorist wannabes.
Unlike the Stooges' slapstick, "Four Lions" comes with terribly real consequences as a group of phenomenally incompetent British Muslims aims to carry out a round of suicide bombings.
This is a movie that will have you gasping in horror even as you choke on your own guffaws. It's just that hysterical, often at the same moments when the film is at its most horrifying.
British TV veteran Morris, who shares screenwriting credit with Jesse Armstrong and Sam Bain, developed the idea from research into the buffoonish side of extremism: Terrorists who lose their train of thought while recording martyrdom videos, bombers aiming to blow up a warship with a boat that sinks under the weight of the explosives.
As deadly as terrorists can be, Morris found they also sometimes are just a "bunch of blokes," as prone to petty bickering, posturing, whining and wavering as the rest of us.
The blokes Morris presents are as clueless as most people would be if they set out to build homemade bombs and make a statement against the establishment.
Omar (Riz Ahmed) is in charge, not necessarily because of superior brain power but because he, unlike his accomplices, at least has some faint grasp of reality (if you recall Homer Simpson watching a Stooges episode and pronouncing, "Moe is their leader," you'll have a sense of the hierarchy in "Four Lions").
Challenging Omar at every turn is Islam convert Barry (Nigel Lindsay), a hilarious blowhard ("I am the most Al-Qaeda one here!") who would be down the pub cursing about the shortcomings of the home football team if he weren't plotting revolution.
The lovably dopey Waj (Kayvan Novak) carries a talking "prayer bear" with him to jihadist training camp in Pakistan. Shy, faltering Faisal (Adeel Akhtar) straps explosives to crows in hopes they'll fly them to the targets. Hip prankster Hassan (Arsher Ali) is a gangsta extremist, rapping against Western imperialism.
This all could be deeply offensive to Muslims, yet Morris and his gifted actors make no statements about religion, customs or ideology. The glimpses we do get of Islamic culture show the realistic clash between strict orthodox Muslims and moderates slackened by exposure to the West.
The filmmakers don't even try to say that terrorists at large are stupid. They simply aim to tell a story whose five main characters are stupid.
The stuff these guys say and do — from the motions they make to confound possible camera surveillance to tweaking "The Lion King" into a jihadist parable — makes "Four Lions" one of the funniest movies of the year.
It's also one of the scariest and saddest, as something even funnier happens in "Four Lions." As they approach their goal of sacrificing their lives in acts of mass murder, we cringe and wince and hope they'll turn aside from their plot, not only because of the innocent lives they aim to take, but because we've actually come to care about these idiots, the way we care about Curly, Larry and Moe.