RELUCTANT INFIDEL, THE
London mini-cab driver Mahmud Nasir (Omid Dajalili) is a so-so part time Muslim who likes the occasional beer, but when his son Rashid (Amit Shah) wants to marry Uzma (Soraya Redford) the step daughter of a famous militant Imam, Arshad El Masri (Yigal Naor), he has to get with the Muslim program. In a piece of bad timing by fate, this is when he discovers (while clearing out his late mother's possessions) that he was in fact adopted as a baby - from Jewish parents. Torn by his desire to meet his 'real' father and to be accepted by his son's future step father in law, Mahmud almost tears himself apart as he tries simultaneously to become both devout Muslim and traditional Jew, the latter with help from his Jewish neighbour Lenny Goldberg (Richard Schiff).
Review by Louise Keller:
Faith of the Muslim and Jewish kind is tossed around irreverently and with humour in this tongue-in-cheek British comedy that takes a close look at what makes a good man. TV writer David Baddiel has written a funny script filled with good ideas, although it occasionally runs out of steam. Stand-up comic Omid Djalili is hilarious as Mahmud Nasir, the father and husband who discovers he is neither Muslim enough nor Jewish enough to satisfy anyone that matters, after discovering his hidden roots. Making pit stops into Islamic and Jewish fanaticism, Mahmud's journey is a wild one as he struggles to please everyone who matters in his life, only to find that truth always wins out. I laughed out loud at many of the scenarios in this wacky and uplifting film that reminds us how similar yet distant we all are.
When we first meet Mahmud, blaspheming and swearing in his suburban London home, we can see first hand that he is not the world's most devout Muslim. But when his son Rashid (Amit Shah) drops the bombshell that the mother of his lovely girlfriend Uzma (Soraya Radford) is about to marry 'a fanatic Taliban moron', he promises to be the best Muslim he can be. If only for the all-important one-off meeting with Arshad El Masri (Yigal Naor), who needs to give his approval to the upcoming nuptials between Uzma and Rashid. Famous last words! (This scene lives up to expectations.)
Of course that's before Mahmud discovers he was really adopted: the scene at the adoption agency when he discovers his name was really Solly Shimshillewitz is hilarious. After that, even a sneeze ('atchoo') sounds like 'a Jew' and the slippery slide to laughter takes us to his Jewish cabbie neighbour Lenny (Richard Schiff is highly entertaining), a Bar Mitzvah (filled with faux pas) and an old people's home as he does his best (in the land of Hope and Pork) to find out What is a Jew? The way Lenny feeds him chicken soup with Matzo dumplings and teaches him to roll his eyes like a sad puppy dog, hands extended, as he spits out the word 'oy' is quite a treat. Archie Panjabi as Mahmud's loving wife Archie brings some memorable moments too.
All the performances work well and the relationships are nicely drawn as Mahmud dashes every which way on his emotional rollercoaster, screaming past everything he holds dear to him. This will tickle the Koran and Bible of all infidels, reluctant or not.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
A bright and sprightly comedy with a big-hearted message that hopes to bring sanity and balance to the Jewish-Muslim religious conflict and to ridicule extremists, The Reluctant Infidel goes a long way to satisfy its ambitions. The stereotypes get a good workout. It's unlikely to be embraced by either Jews or Muslims who take themselves too seriously. They may not understand that the filmmaker isn't poking fun at their religion/s but at those who practice it with their eyes closed.
Indeed, it's when his son tells him to open his eyes that Mahmud himself begins to see the bigger - and truer - picture, leading him and us to the uplifting resolution and story twist. Omid Djalili is terrific as the flawed but likeable tubby hubby to the slim, sweet and gorgeous Archie Panjabi as Saamiya, while Amit Shah is excellent as the young Muslim son blinded by love for the pretty Uzma (Soraya Redford). Richard Schiff delivers great support as the Jewish American neighbour whose ex wife was responsible for him migrating 'to this bloody country'.
Full of well observed details, the film's energy waxes and wanes, but Djalili maintains our interest throughout and engages with his sincerity - which shines through his understandable confusion.
There are some scenes that inch towards the farcical, including a dream sequence, and some that are stridently naturalistic. The result is a multi-layered film with all sorts of surfaces, from rough to smooth and corrugated, but it's an enjoyable and colourful work which is inoffensive even while it is being irreverent.
Published first in the Sun Herald
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RELUCTANT INFIDEL, THE (MA)
CAST: Omid Djalili, Richard Schiff, Archie Panjabi, Soraya Redford, Matt Lucas, Yigal Naor
PRODUCER: David Baddiel, Arvind Ethan David, Omad Djalili, Stewart Le Marechal
DIRECTOR: Josh Appignanesi
SCRIPT: David Baddiel
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Natasha Braier
EDITOR: Kim Gaster
MUSIC: Erran Baron Cohen
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Erik Rehl
RUNNING TIME: 105 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Becker Film Group
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: September 16, 2010