Bill Murray plays Richie Lanz, a has-been band manager whose latest talent, Ronnie (Zooey Deschanel) gets a gig playing for a USO tour in Afghanistan. When she gets cold feet in Kabul and books with Lanz’s money and passport, she leaves Richie behind a rock and a hard place in Barry Levinson’s much anticipated Rock the Kasbah. This was supposed to be Levinson’s comeback film after almost twenty years of disappointing films that have garnered less than enthusiastic reviews and even less charitable box office business. His last great film was 1997’s Wag The Dog and the height of a lot of then President, Bill Clinton’s scandals. Since then it has been one dud after another and with Rock the Kasbah, his duds have hit with a resounding thud. This film is an utter disaster.
It has promise and although it starts out with some laughs, the film quickly runs out of steam and actually ends up being more of a political drama than a clever, satirical comedy. Somewhere in Rock the Kasbah there is a good movie to be made. This ain’t it, lemme tell ya. Murray is always a joy to watch but he is trying so hard to make people laugh, but he is given nothing to work with. He even has some good backup with Bruce Willis, Danny McBride, Scott Caan, Kate Hudson and relative newcomer Leem Lubany. But Mitch Glazer’s script is all over the map, has subplots about gun running and arms deals and tries to be all things to all people. Part political drama, part intrigue, part comedy and fails on just about every level. This is the same guy who wrote the Bill Murray classic, Scrooged, which never fails to make laugh no matter how many times I see it. Of course, this is also the same guy who wrote A Very Murray Christmas for Netflix this past Christmas and that was about as much fun as getting a root canal.
Leem Lubany, however, shines as the newest find for Richie. She is a simple young girl who hides in caves at night where she sings and watches Afghan Star (their version of our American Idol). Being a Muslim girl, she is forbidden to do just about everything and when it is discovered she can sing she suffers the scorn of just about everyone in her village. If Rock the Kasbah does anything it does show how unpleasant it is to be a woman in a male dominated country like Afghanistan. There is the real war on women. This is Leem Lubany’s third feature film and she lights up the screen with every scene. She has a wonderful singing voice and is quite lovely to look at but she is also, charismatic and a joy to watch. Her character is actually based on the real life Afghan Star 2007 winner, Setara Hussainzada. In the film, Lubany’s name is Salima and she endures what Setara endured when she was performing on the show. Death threats and denounced in public by just about everybody for “conduct unbecoming for a woman”. She is only doing what God has blessed her to do; SING. There is a thirty-five minute mini-documentary on HBO aptly titled, “Silencing the Song: An Afghan Fallen Star”. She ended up marrying one of her fans, lives in hiding somewhere in Kabul and has yet been able to return to her village for fear of being killed.
Director Barry Levinson whose star shined so very, very brightly with films like Tin Men, Rainman, Good Morning, Vietnam, Sleepers, The Natural, Young Sherlock Holmes, Avalon and Bugsy, seems to be in a rut and cannot seem to get out of it. Rock the Kasbah is not funny, nor is it smart or observant. It is boring, uninteresting with characters that are not fleshed out at all. We never see what makes any of them tick and Bill Murray is relegated to doing his over-the-top shtick that worked for Scrooged, but comes across as desperate, here; desperate and cringe worthy. There is one scene where Murray performs Deep Purple’s Smoke On the Water and while it is supposed to be funny it comes across as just sad. My advice is to skip Rock the Kasbah and track down the aforementioned documentary. Is about an hour shorter than Rock the Kasbah and a lot more informative and interesting.
Rock the Kasbah-*1/2 out of 5
Rock the Kasbah- Rated R for language and adult situations
Rock the Kasbah- Run Time is 106 minutes and is now out on DVD and On Demand, if you must see it.