If comedy truly flows from tension, Chris Morris’ The Day Shall Come seems perfectly positioned for hilarity, situated amid the thorny tangle of a host of hot-button issues. Gentrification, police violence, mental illness, religion, racism–all are set up like pins to be knocked down, caricatured by a broadly caustic style of mordant satire. Yet the laughs never really come, beyond some sporadically amusing moments, and the entire film feels off, it not entirely wrongheaded in its approach. As with 2010’s Four Lions, the result is an immaculately set-up lampoon sketch that doesn’t quite cohere as a feature.

That film waded into equally uncomfortable territory, with its tale of a quartet of bumbling British jihadis attempting to pull off a domestic terror attack. The Day Shall Come employs a similar setup, following a would-be cult leader as he attempts to gather followers and strike back against the forces gentrifying his Miami neighborhood, while struggling to control his existing army of four. Styling himself after Haitian slave revolt leader Toussaint L’Ouverture, with an inordinate side interest in Black Santa imagery, Moses Al Shabaz (Marchánt Davis) stands as a crude stereotype of African-American extremism as envisioned by the uninformed outsider, slapped together from a mishmash of black power and Black Israelite signifiers. He’s also stunningly stupid, a quality shared with his small cadre of followers. Together this band of blockheads spins out a half-baked ideology as impetus for their action, attempting a back-to-the-land mission in the middle of a city, trying unsuccessfully to pay their rent with chicken eggs.

This makes Shabaz the perfect target for the local FBI anti-terror squad, which as we see in an opening set piece, seems to specialize less in fighting crime than connecting suggestible morons with the tools for their own incarceration. Urged on by eager young operative Kendra Glack (Anna Kendrick) the unit moves on to Shabaz, whom they seek to arm so they can later bust him for weapons possession. The two bands of idiots converge for a final confluence of the film’s farcical elements, an ouroboros of exploitative law enforcement that cringingly attempts to play a potential police shooting for uneasy laughs. While the movie arrays itself against the forces that prop up institutional racism, and attempts to draw dark humor from Shabaz’s unjust destruction by this machine, it also can’t help but implicate him in its effusive, scattershot approach to satire.

It’s interesting to consider exactly why this doesn’t work. The Day Shall Come is insensitive, which makes it discomfiting, but discomfiture can still lead to great comedy. As with last year’s The Death of Stalin, directed by frequent Morris collaborator Armando Iannucci, it utilizes a straight-faced method of skewering contemporary events that splits between absurdism and realism. To carry this off, Morris sets up Shabaz as the classic hapless fall guy, a would-be-comedic characterization that clashes with the depressing reality of how routine this kind of situation has become.

This delicate maneuver might still be pulled off if the black characters were imbued with any measure of culturally specific personality; instead they’re flat ciphers operating in clumsy burlesque mode, a quality that curdles the comedy for good, while assuring that the underlying satiric message lacks any punch. Well-calibrated and mostly well-meaning, the film flounders as a result, its lack of nuance assuring that it says less about systemic realities than the inherent shortcomings of its own ham-fisted grasp at political relevance.

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