I appreciate any effort to highlight racial and religious hostilities in a comedic light. It's a difficult high wire act to address sensitive, and potentially offensive, topics through humor and so the fact that "The Infidel" does so overtly and aggressively was a pleasant surprise. Absolutely terrific in conception, I was wholeheartedly with "The Infidel" at the beginning. Played for over-the-top laughs by mining (almost cartoonishly at times) ethnic stereotypes, the film starts fast, funny, and unapologetically wrong (in a good way). It is, however, a frenzied and challenging pace to match and soon the picture began to wane as the comedy becomes a little forced and the sweetly accepting message starts to materialize. It's tolerance as preached by The Three Stooges--with its slapstick antics and requisite learning moments.
The basis for the film is absolutely inspired! A riff on social politics and an identity crisis comedy, we meet Omid Djalili as a Muslim family man. A modern Muslim, to be sure, but not progressive enough that he can help getting into a feud with a Jewish man (Richard Schiff) at the drop of the hat. As his son wishes to marry the daughter of an extremist leader, Djalili and family must prove their devoutness. But this couldn't happen at a worse time because Djalili discovers that he is adopted and Jewish! So funny, and played for big broad laughs, these are some of the finest moments in the film. Naturally, much cliche'd hilarity ensues as he tries how to learn how to be Jewish from Schiff in comedic montages. From here, the film ventures into love and understanding mode before wrapping things up with a rather tidy bow. Not a particularly revelatory journey, when all is said in done, but amusing throughout.
Everyone in the cast works very hard to pull off "The Infidel." The performers are a talented and appealing bunch--no more so than lead Djalili who has learned his buffoonish bluster from the masters! Ultimately, however, that's what it started to feel like for me--work. Everything was in overdrive and, as they say in the theater, played to the rafters. The outrageously funny moments gets watered down and become repetitive the longer the movie progresses. And the ending, with its easy and convenient denouement, erases any conflict with some magical plot constructions. I won't deny that seeing Schiff and Djalili spar isn't amusing because it is. I did think that this terrific idea of a film, however, relied too much on obviousness and not enough on cleverness. I look forward to the filmmaker's next effort as I think he's got much to say--but "The Infidel" (for me) started with a 4 star punch and ended in a 3 star, and very expected, finale. KGHarris, 2/11.