Tribeca 2010 Film Festival Reviews: The Infidel

So there’s this fat Muslim dude named Mahmud (Omid Djalili) who’s prone to fits of yelling and anger, and whose son is engaged to the daughter of an Islamic extremist. He wakes up one day and decides to traipse down to an adoption center where he discovers he was born Jewish. Suddenly he’s thrust into an identity crisis of wacky proportions, complete with Star-of-David set pieces and brief theatrical numbers—an identity crisis that will eventually spell doom not only for himself, but his entire family. So is the plot of Josh Appignanesi’s The Infidel, a film I honestly have difficulty writing about because it can simply be described as “bland”. You’ve seen all the jokes in this film executed better elsewhere; the aforementioned Star-of-David sequence? Family Guy’s “When you Wish Upon a Weinstein”. Mahmud’s understanding that Jews horde gold? South Park. Every single religious punchline this movie soullessly offers up time and time again? Bar jokes, comedians, daily conversations, newspaper cartoons—everywhere you can possibly imagine. Yet the problem isn’t necessarily familiarity with the material—it’s that the entire backbone of The Infidel is built upon this humor and the hackneyed premise it’s derived from. You can only stretch Jewish/Muslim jokes so long before the whole gimmick gets old, and about 45 minutes in you’ll begin aching for something legitimately comical or meaningful to happen.

Omid being escorted back to the set of The Infidel after fleeing his contract.

Initially Mahmud doesn’t seem especially devout to any religion; he fits all the stereotypes of a Muslim—has a very Islamic name, big nose, tan skin, and is prone to fits of uncontrollable rage—as the film continuously reminds us during its slow trudge, yet spends most of his time watching old music videos and driving his son around in the family car, actively discouraging him from marrying an extremist’s daughter. Yet after the discovery of his Jewish birthname, Sullie Shimshillowitz, his entire life is turned upside down as he must silmultaneously learn what it means to be Jewish in order to visit his birth-father upon his death-bed while brushing up on his Islam in order to impress the father of his son’s fiance. Everyone’s faced this crisis before, right? If you can keep from cringing this far into the premise, the final half, with its ham-fisted drama and absurd identity twist, may not disappoint. Otherwise, you’re in for 100 minutes of lame, rehashed jokes that desperately struggle to carry this overblown mess of a plot across the finish line, but putter out somewhere near the first port-a-potty. Lenny Goldberg (Richard Schiff) is Infidel’s single saving grace; though he plays Mahmud’s Jewish scholar, he nonetheless feels like the only character who exists outside his religion—is the only realized person in a cast of flimsy stereotypes.

Ethnic sounds like Epic. Oh, wordplay! Wah-Wahhhhhhh.

If you’re the kind of person who thinks a burnt-out 80’s rock musician becoming an Islamic extremist is funny, or chuckle at hearing “Jew” instead of “you” in sentences, The Infidel might be for you. After the movie you may want to consider throwing yourself into an open grave and having a friend smother you in dirt. That’s what I wanted to do with this turd of cinema. Good comedy doesn’t come from insane, ridiculous scenarios that would never actually occur—they come from real life, something this movie has almost no semblance to. Avoid it.

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