Saamiya Nasir (Archie Panjabi), Mahmud Nasir (Omid Djalili) and Rashid...

Saamiya Nasir (Archie Panjabi), Mahmud Nasir (Omid Djalili) and Rashid Nasir (Amit Shah) sit on the family sofa in a scene from the movie "The Infidel," directed by Josh Appignanesi. Credit: Matt Nettheim

A kind of baggy-pants comedy with a worldview, "The Infidel" supposes what would happen to a lapsed London Muslim (Omid Djalili) if he discovered one day that he'd been born Solly Shimshillewitz - and just as his son was preparing to marry the daughter of England's most notorious Islamic radical.

The comic effect of this Josh Appignanesi-directed film (screenplay by David Baddiel) is enhanced, of course, by the walking-on-eggshells nature of the subject matter. But Djalili's blustery, self-effacing style prevents matters from ever getting too heavy.

"The Infidel" is, at heart, a sitcom - Mahmud (Djalili) discovers his kosher roots just as son Rashid (Amit Shah) is trying to woo both the beautiful Uzma (Soraya Radford) and her Islamo-anarchist father (Igal Naor). So it's easy enough to swallow that Mahmud's salvation would arrive via Lenny, an expatriate Jewish-American cabdriver (Richard Schiff).

Their initial encounter is fractious - Lenny has stolen Mahmud's parking space. But after learning that there's an elderly Shimshillewitz residing in a nearby nursing home - and being banned from the home by its rigidly Orthodox rabbi-in-chief - Mahmud has to ask Lenny for instruction. Their interfaith repartee is the heart of the film. Mahmud's toast at a Jewish wedding has to be seen to be believed.

Djalili, the Iranian stand-up comedian, owns the movie, but Schiff is hilarious. Good, too, are Mahmud's wife, Saamiya (a terrific Archie Panjabi), and their 6-year-old daughter (Leah Fatanbia), who marches around promoting jihad.

"The Infidel" succumbs at times to the righteousness, moralizing and even sentimentality attached to the issues at hand, but comedy is its mission. And in its low-budget, loose-limbed way, that's what it achieves.



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