The Infidel -- Film Review



A would-be provocative satire that too often settles for sitcom-grade silliness, "The Infidel" represents an opportunity wasted.

Written by comedian David Baddiel, this effort about a British-Pakistani Muslim who discovers that he actually is Jewish certainly boasts timeliness in its subject matter. But despite some funny gags, the film never manages to hit its comic targets. It was showcased at the Tribeca Film Festival and is receiving a limited theatrical release from Tribeca Films.

Stand-up comic Omid Djalili plays the central role of Mahmud Nasir, a family man proud of his Muslim heritage but who is far more secular than observant. His world gets shaken to the core after his mother dies and he finds out that not only was he adopted, but that his birth parents were Jewish and his real name is -- wait for it, wait for it -- Solly Shimshilewitz!

Desperate to make contact with his seriously ill birth father, he approaches his curmudgeonly Jewish neighbor, Lennie (Richard Schiff), for some quick lessons in how to be a member of the tribe. The resulting farcical scenes in which Mahmud learns the correct inflection of "oy" and the way to shrug one's shoulders with the proper degree of Semitic resignation are the funniest in the film.

Complicating matters even further is that Mahmud has been importuned by his son to pretend to be a strictly observant Muslim for the sake of his fiancee's father, a fundamentalist Muslim cleric. (This plot element, along with the scenes in which Mahmud learns how to act Jewish, makes the film seem like a religious-themed variant of "La Cage aux Folles.")

Clearly, there's plenty of fodder for sharp and timely satire, but "Infidel" largely restricts itself to safer ground, its predictable gags revolving around such things as matzoh ball soup and the difficulties of keeping one's yarmulke on straight.

Still, it earns points for at least trying. The two leads make a terrific comic team, with Djalili'a deadpan style of physical humor perfectly complementing Schiff's hilarious, fast-paced wisecracking.

Venue: Tribeca Film Festival (Tribeca Film)
Production: Slingshot, Met Film
Cast: Omid Djalili, Richard Schiff, Archie Panjabi, Amit Shah, Igal Naor, Mina Anwar, Soraya Radford
Director: Josh Appignanesi
Screenwriter: David Baddiel
Producers: Arvind Ethan David, Uzma Hasan, Stewart Le Marechal, David Baddiel
Executive producers: Omid Djalili, Cavan Ash
Director of photography: Natasha Braier
Editor: Kim Gaster
Music: Erran Baron Cohen
Production designer: Erik Rehl
Costume designer: Marianne Agertoft
No rating, 104 minutes
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