Stand-up comic Omid Djalili is Mahmud, a settled, non-practising Muslim family man whose life flips over when he discovers that not only was he adopted, but that his birth parents were orthodox Jews. Eager to learn more about his heritage, Mahmud turns to grouchy Jewish-American cab driver Lenny (Richard Schiff) for guidance.
‘The Infidel’ starts wonderfully, introducing us to a cast of carefully constructed stereotypes and then just as carefully it undermines them. Mahmud and Lenny are a terrific odd couple: there’s a real bromantic spark between Djalili and Schiff, both of whom clearly relish the opportunity to tackle taboo subjects headon. David Baddiel’s script is sharp, wise and very funny, and never flinches from exposing the hypocrisy and power games that fuel religious intolerance.
But the film struggles to maintain this high standard. An intriguing but underdeveloped subplot concerning the marriage of Mahmud’s son to the adopted daughter of a fundamentalist preacher begins to take over, pushing poor Lenny into the background and breaking up the perfectly pitched buddy dynamic that fuelled the earlier scenes. And gradually, inevitably, it drifts into worthiness: Baddiel doesn’t just want us to laugh, he wants us to learn. And here lies the film’s downfall, as what began as a smart, challenging exercise in boundary pushing becomes just another sentimental life lesson.