16 August 2010

Movie Review: The Infidel



B-

The Infidel
2010, 105mins, 15
Director: Josh Appignanesi
Writer: David Baddiel
Cast includes: Omid Djalili, Matt Lucas, Richard Schiff, Archie Panjabi, Yigal Naor
UK Release Date: 9th April 2010

Culture clashing and life swapping have long been staples of the comedy genre but surprisingly few projects have ever touched upon the tension between Jews and Muslims. It’s a bright and brave note to pitch a film on; and so for that alone “The Infidel” deserves credit. The film does muster some incredibly funny sequences and provides a good showcase for comedian Omid Djalili, but its attempts at creating an emotional undercurrent are less convincing, and even at a modest 105 minutes the picture feels much too long. Scripted by the supremely talented British funnyman David Baddiel, “The Infidel” supplies enough goodness to keep viewers entertained but not enough to fully honour its inspired premise.

Mahmud Nasir (Omid Djalili) isn’t exactly a diehard Muslim, but he’s more than happy to oblige his kinsman’s general distaste for Jewish culture. However upon clearing out his deceased mother’s house Mahmud discovers he was adopted, quickly learning that his actual parents were Jewish. Ashamed and unwilling to confess his secret to longsuffering wife Saamiya (Archie Panjabi), Mahmud seeks out a cheeky Jewish cabbie (Richard Schiff) to get in touch with Hebrew culture, something that a Rabbi (Matt Lucas) is demanding before Mahmud can be allowed to visit his dying biological father. However to make matters more complicated, his son has become engaged to a beautiful woman whose stepfather happens to be a Muslim extremist, a figure who won’t let the wedding ceremony take place unless he is satisfied that Mahmud and family are Muslims who respect and honour their faith.

Omid Djalili is likable and adept in “The Infidel”, taking his slobbish character and turning him into a forceful sack of conflicted comedy gold. Djalili shows solid comic timing and a goofy streak a mile wide, whilst also finding a subtler and more sarcastic rapport with a pithy Richard Schiff. It’s a diverse array of comedy, all wrapped up with a nice big satirical bow. “The Infidel” will provide a healthy dollop of humour to most audiences, a combination of Djalili’s spirited performance and Baddiel’s smile inducing set-pieces allowing the movie to flourish in certain sections. A tutorial from Schiff on how to act Jewish is filled with giddy sight gags and a sequence taking place at a Bar-Mitzvah capitalizes on the setting marvellously. “The Infidel” certainly nails all the obvious jokes, but perhaps neglects to delve deeper and more inventively into the fundamental concept. Baddiel has undoubtedly concocted a terrific premise and has seasoned it with a commendable number of giggles and chortles, but I can’t help but think a layer of less predictable and more thoughtful jokes were lying untapped within this screenplay. It’s a suspicion instead of a certified fact, but I can’t help but feel that despite being fairly amusing, “The Infidel” had even more comic potential than is realized onscreen.

The movie ties itself together using a basic dysfunctional family narrative, one that fails to resonate on any meaningful level with viewers. The performances are all affable; but the script plays the family dilemma as pure farce for most of the film’s stretched running, before climaxing in a way that suggests the filmmakers expect you to truly care and be fully invested by the finish. “The Infidel” isn’t soulless by any means, but it certainly aspires to a touching conclusion that the main portion of the feature doesn’t come close to justifying, thus rounding out the story in a largely unsatisfactory manner. The end message is a predictable yet pleasant social warning, preaching that tolerance between all groups in society is both healthy and beneficial to the world at large. It doesn’t exactly permeate massive amounts of insight, but it’s an important and agreeable moral none the less.

The film was made for a small amount and technically that’s fairly blatant, but the real annoyance is that “The Infidel” wasn’t granted a shorter cut in the editing suite. The film is hardly a massive time filler at 105 minutes but it seems in execution longer than that, this sort of light social spoofing lending itself better to a running time under an hour and a half. “The Infidel” is a movie riddled with problems, but it is important to realize that as a comedy it succeeds (the laughs are generous and occasionally ingenious) a fact that ultimately means the film will make a worthwhile rental. Just don’t expect anything classic.

A review by Daniel Kelly, 2010

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