‘Infidel’ plays like a sitcom

LIZ BRAUN, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 4:18 PM ET

The Infidel is a comedy about race, religion and identity.

Set in London, the story concerns Mahmud (Omid Djalili), an East Ender who is maybe not the most observant Muslim -- but he'll have to appear to be if he hopes to help his son make the right marriage.

His son must win the approval of his future father-in-law, a radical Muslim cleric whose hard-line views are anathema to Mahmud. Still, Mahmud is willing to adopt a more religious attitude if it will help his son. It isn't easy. It gets tougher when Mahmud discovers he's actually Jewish.

His real name is Solly Shimshillewitz. Oy.

Mahmud goes to the mosque for help from the Imam, who assumes Mahmud's dark secret is sexual. Mahmud doesn't want to confide in his wife or co-workers, so eventually he visits the only Jew he knows -- a drunken cab driver who lives on the same street as Mahmud's late mother. The cabbie (Richard Schiff) undertakes Mahmud's education in all things Jewish, even though he's about as observant a Jew as Mahmud is a Muslim. Plenty of jokes involving yarmulkes and guilt and Fiddler On The Roof ensue.

Mahmud discovers an old man named Shimshillewitz in a nursing home and comes to believe that the man must be his father. Too bad the rabbi guarding the old man's nursing home door won't let Mahmud pass until he's studied up on being Jewish. Mahmud is having a total identity crisis.

The Infidel is crude, irreverent and funny, and mostly because of the performance from Djalili as Mahmud. Known both for his stand-up career and his acting work, Djalili is fast and furious here, tossing off one comic line after another from screenwriter David Baddiel.

The Infidel makes fun of everything that's extreme or hypocritical in any religion, and the story is silly and harmless. And somewhat lightweight. What's lurking around the edges of the main narrative, however, is often the source of the best laughs -- some politically correct arresting policemen, a fashionista family friend who can break-dance in her Niqab, a quiet social worker who refuses to give Mahmud a crucial family file.

For all the terrific throw-away lines, The Infidel plays like a TV show rather than a feature film, and a TV sitcom at that. The ending is soft and dopey, and kind of a betrayal of all the black comedy that went before it. The Infidel is putting over a message of peace, love and understanding, to be sure, but the final product is a kind of Tolerance Lite. For the record, the people who created The Infidel hail from Muslim, Jewish, Christian, Atheist, Buddhist and Baha'i backgrounds.

liz.braun@sunmedia.ca


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