Omid Djalili’s character in “The Infidel” should be the standard bearer for moderate Islam.
He’s an ordinary father and husband, a man who rejects radicals while embracing the reasonable tenets of his faith. That makes him an ideal vehicle to confront anti-Semitic behavior and other cruel stereotypes.
The new British comedy, out Oct. 26 on DVD, shrewdly deconstruct cultural biases without slapping a “Coexist” bumper sticker on the narrative. It’s less satisfactory as a gut-busting comedy, generating a few smiles and little else.
Djalili’s Mahmud has plenty on his mind before discovering a long-held secret from his past. His gentle son is about to marry a girl whose father espouses hateful religious rhetoric. And he’s started a verbal tussle with a Jewish neighbor (Richard Schiff of “The West Wing” fame) after a parking quarrel.
Mahmud’s life changes when he uncovers decades old paperwork revealing he was adopted at two weeks of age. And his original name wasn’t Mahmud … it’s Solly.
Yup. He’s a Jew.
So he feels compelled to explore his Jewish roots and find the local man who may be his biological pappy.
“The Infidel” uses Mahmud’s journey as an excuse to expose bigotry as well as the commonalities between us. The formula may sound preachy, but the story deftly mixes the material in with an increasingly exasperated Mahmud. Djalili’s performance is all quiet burns and spastic fits of rage. His scenes trying to absorb Jewish culture with Schiff break little new ground, but the actors establish a comfortable comic rapport that powers the film’s second half.
And kudos to actor Yigal Noar for playing the radical cleric with a blend of ferocity and humor. The role could easily slip into caricature, but Noar shows the charismatic side of your garden variety extremist.
Mahmud’s circle of pals wear their anti-Semitic behavior on their sleeves, and Schiff’s character is quick to fall back on Muslim stereotypes. But the film offers enough cross-cultural healing to balance out any sour feelings stirred.
An oddball sub plot involving an ’80s pop act all but wrecks the film’s waning moments, ruining the chance for “The Infidel” to end on an intellectually inspiring note.
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