"The Day Shall Come" believes in disconcerting satire for discombobulated times. It's messy, and hindered by some scattered storytelling in the crucial first 15 minutes, when it would've benefited from a more streamlined orientation session.
But hang in there. The jokes, mostly bitter, deadpan asides in a depiction of U.S. anti-terrorist activity as its own form of domestic terrorism, arrive just in time. The pacing's both swift and, in proud, sour comic tradition, Swiftian.
The setting is Miami, though "The Day Shall Come" uses locales in the Dominican Republic to double as Florida. FBI counterterrorism whiz Kendra Glack, played by Anna Kendrick in stern emotional lockdown mode, needs a "win" in the war on terror, to please her superior (Denis O'Hare, master of the deadpan inanity) and the higher-ups in Homeland Security.
Bingo! A useful scapegoat with possible small-scale terrorist tendencies emerges in the form of Moses Al Shabaz (newcomer Marchant Davis). He's a loving family man and self-proclaimed prophet to his extremely small but devoted group of followers _ four, and counting.
Moses, his wife Venus (Danielle Brooks, of "Orange is the New Black") and their young children live at their ramshackle "community farm and mission." They're behind on the rent, though. Moses is desperate. The timing's right for Kendra, the sympathetic center in a movie about setups and fake-outs, to pose as a terrorism sponsor with ready cash.
The scam involves Kendra deploying an unsavory pedophile of a Syrian informant (Kayvan Novak) in the FBI's entrapment scheme. Kendra and company place a fake nuke in Moses' hands, in a narrative turn that brings in another set of undercover agents posing as arms-dealing Nazis. (Jim Gaffigan plays the nominal leader.) The resulting "non-nuclear nuclear emergency" culminates in a nighttime siege at a donut shop, with scads of state and federal law enforcement, overwhelmingly white, bearing arms against their black and brown targets.
In other words "The Day Shall Come" is chasing more than one kind of comedy. It comes from British comedy veteran Christopher Morris, who directed and co-wrote the script with Jesse Armstrong. (Sean Gray and Tony Roche punched up the script for "additional material" credit.) Nine years ago, in a very different world, Morris made "Four Lions," a terrifically nervy satire on post-9/11 jihadism set among a doltish collective of British Pakistani terrorists. "The Day Shall Come" is a less distinctive achievement. While newcomer Davis does well enough as Moses, the character's vaguely written and more of an observer than a participant in his own story.
Still, the laughs are frequent, if despairing. And the way Davis tosses off a quick salutation to a comrade early on _ "May you live to see the accidental dominance of the white race overthrown!" _ is just right. The best bits fly fast and low, as when O'Hare's FBI supervisor, born to rise in the ranks by showing as little initiative as possible, explains to Kendrick's well-meaning agent that the phrase "non-nuclear nuclear emergency" makes perfect sense. The trick, he says, is separating the two "nuclears" with a pause long enough to eliminate the contradiction.