Chris Morris made one of this decade’s most brilliant movie satires when he wrote and directed Four Lions back in 2010. If you’ve never heard of it, don’t feel too bad. The British comedy created great controversy in the U.K. upon its release because it depicted a group of Muslim terrorist bombers as idiots who didn’t know what they were doing. The film didn’t receive much play in this country, perhaps because distributors were afraid of the audience reaction, but more likely because that film’s cultural references were so specifically British. This week, Grand Berry Theater plays Morris’ long-awaited second feature and first American film, and I’m sorry to say it only infrequently reaches the same heights as Four Lions.
The Day Shall Come begins with Moses al-Shabazz (Marchánt Davis) leading a four-member Judeo-Christian-Islamic black liberation church in Miami which is about to be evicted because he tries to pay the landlord in potatoes, which turn out to be blocks of wood. His Facebook Live sermons about overthrowing the U.S. government catch the eye of a promotion-hungry FBI agent (Anna Kendrick), who sets up a sting operation with a fake Arab sheik offering Moses $50,000 and a bunch of AK-47s for his uprising. Moses preaches nonviolence but accepts the offer only because he desperately needs the cash. By the time the agent hears Moses planning to enlist dinosaurs in his movement and snap construction cranes with his mind — he’s off his psychiatric meds, you see — it’s too late to stop the bureau, which would rather jail a mentally ill loser as a terrorist than admit that it screwed up.
The farce’s mechanics are set up admirably here, as Moses’ desire for enough money to save his failing rooftop farm leads him deeper into trouble — he plans to rip off both the “sheik” by using the guns as fenceposts and a group of white supremacists by selling them fake nuclear warheads. Still, while foreigners sometimes see a country’s flaws better than that country’s natives do, that’s not the case here. Morris’ satire of American race relations falls flat (never more so than at the end), and other comedians have better sent up that particular breed of African-American male who sees racist conspiracies everywhere. Plus, an American filmmaker would more likely have realized that these days, the terrorists here are white people. Four Lions received comic contributions from everyone in its cast, but this movie wastes the likes of Denis O’Hare as the head of the FBI office and Danielle Brooks as Moses’ wife.
The team here is too good not to win a few gambits. Kendrick is skilled as a well-meaning blunderer, and Davis (a newcomer in his very first film role) is quite adroit as a man who thinks he’s on top of everything. The script lands a wallop of a joke when the agent tells a knucklehead white cop (James Adomian) not to shoot an unarmed black man, and the cop says, “Unarmed black man, unarmed white man. Which one’s more likely to have a gun?” Even so, with nine years to gestate this film, you’d expect Chris Morris to come up with a few more gems like that. If he had, this film might have been less of a disappointment.
Starring Marchánt Davis and Anna Kendrick. Directed by Chris Morris. Written by Chris Morris and Jesse Armstrong. Not rated.