A comedy about a Muslim man who finds out that he's actually Jewish? You'd have to be meshuggah to think of such a thing! Penned by stand-up/author David Baddiel (his first feature), The Infidel stars another comedian - British-Iranian star Omid Djalili - in the lead role. As well as his TV work, Djalili has picked up a pretty wide range of movie credits in the past (from Notting Hill and Gladiator to Dead Man Running and the third Pirates Of The Caribbean), but here, he carries the picture.
Djalili plays Mahmud Nasir, a somewhat semi-practising Muslim who happens across a certificate of adoption. He soon finds out that his birth name was Solly. Solly Shimshillewitz, in fact. As you might imagine, the discovery sparks something of a shift in Mahmud's sense of self. With the help of caustic American-born cabbie Lenny (a frequently scene-stealing Richard Schiff), Mahmud tries to connect with his roots so that a care home Rabbi (Matt Lucas) will let him see his dying birth father. Meanwhile, Mahmud's son Rashid (Amit Shah) is desperate to wed his girlfriend Uzma (Soraya Radford), but that means Mahmud impressing her super-religious Muslim stepdad (Igal Naor). Oy gevalt! An early word of warning - despite the family-friendly premise there's a fair bit of swearing from the off, with plenty f**ks and the occasional c**t potentially scaring off the grandparents.
Plot-wise, there's some terribly contrived nonsense running throughout. You can almost hear the creaking of shifting gears as supposedly innocuous things happen as a clear set-up for later scenes. The sort of thing Larry David mastered in Seinfeld and early Curb sticks out like a sore thumb here. But, nu, this is a farcical comedy, so these failings are just about forgiveable. Baddiel's script definitely has enough religious injokery and cultural nods to get Jewish viewers laughing in both recognition and amusement, but does it do enough to get the kuffar and goyim giggling too, along with Muslims? Just about, I think. As well as a continuous stream of witty one-liners, there's some nifty physical comedy and set-pieces, with Mahmud learning just how to pronounce "Oy" being something of a highlight.
Taking The Infidel in the spirit it's clearly intended, it seems hard for viewers on either side of the Semitic faith divide to get too offended. Sure, some gags like the hook-handed fundamentalist fall a little flat, but there's definitely enough going on to keep you grinning. Towards the end there's a shift in tone, when characters feel the need to make some predictably serious points about tolerance and how we're all the same and yadda yadda yadda, but the comedy never takes a complete back-seat. For one thing, the frequent swearing certainly leavens any po-facedness in those scenes. The contrivances do pile up though and the movie ends with a bit of a whimper rather than a bang. But having had a right giggle from start to finish, it seems petty to kvetch too much.
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