Film Review: Kitschy 'Infidel' hopes we can all just get along

As Mahmud, father of the groom-to-be, comedian Omid Djalili provides the saving grace of 'The Infidel' through his unflagging energy and commitment to the material.Matt Nettheim

As Mahmud, father of the groom-to-be, comedian Omid Djalili provides the saving grace of "The Infidel" through his unflagging energy and commitment to the material.Matt Nettheim

Tensions between Jews and Muslims and between assimilated, Westernized Muslims and fundamentalist fanatics are given the sitcom -- or, in this case, "Britcom" -- treatment in "The Infidel," a well-played, intermittently amusing film that offers jokes and sight gags as a hopeful alternative to hate and jihad.

As Mahmud, father of the groom-to-be, comedian Omid Djalili provides the saving grace of 'The Infidel' through his unflagging energy and commitment to the material.Matt Nettheim

As Mahmud, father of the groom-to-be, comedian Omid Djalili provides the saving grace of "The Infidel" through his unflagging energy and commitment to the material.Matt Nettheim

The movie begins as a sort of London-based Islamic rewrite of "La Cage aux Folles," as handsome young Rashid (Amit Shah) implores his loving, laid-back, thoroughly "modern" East End father, Mahmud (Omid Djalili), to pretend to be an old-fashioned conservative Muslim when Rashid introduces him to his fiancée's stern stepfather (Yigal Naor), an anti-Semitic celebrity cleric who must approve the marital union.

This set-up, however, is merely the foundation for the primary comic plot, in which Mahmud discovers that he was adopted, and that his real name is "Solly Shimshillewitz." In other words, he's Jewish. (The English-born son of Iranian parents, Djalili, a standup comic, is in almost every scene, and his unflagging energy and commitment to the material is the movie's saving grace.)

Hiding this revelation from his family (in true sitcom fashion, Mahmud's wife, played by Archie Panjabi, is much more attractive than her roly-poly, cartoonish husband), Mahmud decides to confront his identity crisis head on. As depicted in director Josh Appignanesi's montage, this means watching "Fiddler on the Roof," reading "Portnoy's Complaint," and learning how to say "Oy!" Mahmud befriends a saturnine American Jew named Lenny (Richard Schiff), who takes him to a bar mitzvah, where he is confronted by a smörgsbord of Judaism, including a Buddhist Jew. Says Lenny: "He believes you should renounce all material possessions, but still keep the receipts."

Ba-dum-bump. Despite the serious issues it confronts, "The Infidel" is too silly and especially too kitschy to be taken seriously; the drama is as maudlin as the comedy is overemphatic. Screenwriter David Baddiel gives Mahmud an almost literal curtain speech to ensure that nobody misses the movie's message; this follows a final-act revelation involving the "Islamofascist" cleric that won't surprise the attentive viewer but is nevertheless as absurd as the unmasking in a "Scooby-Doo" episode. Movie fans interested in the film's subject matter might be more profitably directed to Albert Brooks' witty "Looking for Comedy in the Muslim World" (2006) and the decidedly non-comic "My Son the Fanatic" (1997), written by Hanif Kureishi, who is acknowledged in "The Infidel" with a jokey shout-out.

"The Infidel" is at Malco's Studio on the Square.

-- John Beifuss, 529-2394

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Not rated; contains profanity and some adult situations

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