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Based in a London suburb Mahmud Nasir lives with his pretty wife, Saamiya, and two children, Rashid and Nabi. His son plans to marry Uzma, the step-daughter of Egyptian-born Arshad Al-Masri, a so-called 'Hate Cleric' from Waziristan, Pakistan. Mahmud, who is not exactly a devout Muslim, he drinks alcohol, and does not pray five times, but does agree that he will appease Arshad, without whose approval the marriage cannot take place. Shortly thereafter Mahmud, while going over his recently deceased mother's documents, will find out that he was adopted, his birth parents were Jewish, and his name is actually Solly Shimshillewitz. He conceals this information from his family, and with the help of his neighbor, Leonard Goldberg, tries to understand the Jews, their religion and even locates his birth-father, who is on his death-bed in a nursing home. Mahmud does not know that Arshad has been checking into his background, has videotaped him setting fire to a Jewish cap during a protest, and ... Written by
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Omid Djalili gives a terrific comic performance here but is hampered by a script that fails to take any risks
There's no denying that "The Infidel" treads tough ground, one that doesn't need much reminding in this day and age. And to be fair, "The Infidel" is one of the more amusing films centred around Muslim/Jewish hostilities in years. Anchored by a hearty performance by stand-up Omid Djalili, who's made funny, incisive observations in his act about his culture and background in relation to English society and also, about the way they talk and behave and what tends to go unsaid in his presence. He has a fun time filling in the nuances of his role here with this keen understanding and terrific comic timing.
Djalili plays Mahmud Nasir, a moderate Muslim father and business-owner in England who finds out that he was born Solomon (Solly) Shimshillewitz and was adopted by Muslim parents. Understandably upset by the threat this weight of truth might bring to his normalcy, Mahmud hides the truth from his impossibly attractive wife (Archie Punjabi), a young daughter who spouts insanely ridiculous stereotypes and from a son who's about to marry the step-daughter of a radical Pakistani cleric. Rocked with an identity crisis, Mahmud enlists the help of a grumpy native New York Jew, Lenny Goldberg played with quick-fire efficiency by Emmy-winner Richard Schiff.
Djalili and Schiff pair well together. Frequently, the best scenes in the film coalesce around them as they traverse new ground as Mahmud discovers a heritage he never knew and Lenny finds respect for a culture he's spent valuable time opposing. The moral of the story is clear: We're all the same. It's a trite notion but delivered with enough heart and equal opportunity offending on both sides.
This is a high-concept comedy with middle-brow ambitions, setting up substantial questions on ethnicity and religion but leave them hanging. It wants to co-opt the serious issues at play but not address them. At first glance, it's got a premise that brings humour right to the table but even with the best Djalili's got to give, the film lumbers along until a final third that just breaks down in hysterics and plain narrative tedium.
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