Rock the Kasbah

Guess this has nothing to do with The Clash. Academy Award nominees Bill Murray and Kate Hudson, Zooey Deschanel, Danny McBride and Bruce Willis star in Rock the Kasbah.

Rock the KasbahCast of Characters:
Richie Lanz – Bill Murray
Merci – Kate Hudson
Ronnie – Zooey Deschanel
Nick – Danny McBride
Jake – Scott Caan
Salima – Leem Lubany
Riza – Arian Moayed
Bombay Brian – Bruce Willis

Director – Barry Levinson
Screenplay – Mitch Glazer
Producer – Steve Bing, Bill Block & Jacob Pechenik
Rated R for language including sexual references, some drug use and brief violence

Richie Lanz (Bill Murray) is a has-been rock manager that has gone from managing bands like Fleetwood Mac and claiming to discover Madonna to conning money out of no-talent hacks dying for the spotlight. When his one main client and secretary Ronnie (Zooey Deschanel) is discovered by a USO promoter during one of her performances at a seedy dive bar, the two are asked to travel all the way to Afghanistan to perform for the troops.

Upon arriving in Afghanistan, Ronnie’s immediately overwhelmed and bolts with Richie’s money and passport. While waiting for the situation to get sorted out, Richie stumbles upon a local Afghani farm girl named Salima (Leem Lubany) and comes up with a plan to have her perform on Afghan Live, the country’s version of American Idol that has never had a female contestant. Despite the outrage from the local males in the community, Richie aims to turn Salima into a star.

Okay, I gotta first mention that on Today, Bruce Willis said Rock the Kasbah is Bill Murray’s best movie.

Not just a good movie. Not just a great movie. Not just one of Murray’s best. He said it is the best.

Had Bill Murray not have done Meatballs, Caddyshack, Stripes, Tootsie, Ghostbusters, What About Bob?, Groundhog Day, Ed Wood, Kingpin, Rushmore, The Royal Tenenbaums, Lost in Translation, Broken Flowers, The Lost City, his cameo in Zombieland, Get Low, Moonrise Kingdom, The Grand Budapest Hotel… this would still be one of the worst movies of his career, maybe even the worst.

Yes, even worse than that dumb elephant movie.

You don’t expect a film directed by Barry Levinson, the Oscar-winning director of Diner, The Natural, Good Morning, Vietnam, Rain Man, Bugsy and Wag the Dog, and starring Bill Murray, Kate Hudson in non-crappy chick flick mode, the uber-adorable Zooey Deschanel and Bruce Willis to be one of the worst movies of 2015.

But it is.

What a sloppy, tone-deaf catastrophe this is. Not that I expected amazing things here. Levinson’s career post-2000 has been wildly inconsistent at best, and attaching Mitch Glazer the writer of one of Murray’s more forgettable films, Scrooged, doesn’t have me jumping up and down in excitement either. But I wasn’t expecting a train wreck so obnoxious it’s worthy of being used in interrogating detainees. I wasn’t expecting a half-assed script, one that Glazer probably squatted over a stack of papers and crapped out, where key characters are introduced before inexplicably disappearing for good with no explanation and the entire “change of heart” third-act is as artificial as a Kardashian. I wasn’t expecting a director who previously handled political satire wonderfully in Wag the Dog to handle it here so clumsily.

I also wasn’t expecting to want a car bomb to go off in the theater, but about halfway through I was practically begging for one to put me out of my misery.

At least those expecting another phoned-in, paycheck-grabbing performance from Bruce Willis will come away with expectations fully met.

What’s especially disappointing about this picture is that in a better movie Richie Lanz seems like the sort of clueless boob that’s tailor-made for Bill Murray. For just a brief moment in the beginning, we’re treated to the type of pre-Wes Anderson bread and butter style of comedy Murray made his name on. Then, in very quick fashion, Murray turns into a caricature of himself. A very annoying, unwatchable caricature.

Coming from an actor who gave us many iconic, memorably endearing comic roles – Carl Spackler, John Winger, Dr. Peter Venkman, Phil Connors – it’s not only unfunny, it’s downright sad.

The real life story Rock the Kasbah is based on, female contestant Setara Hussainzada’s run on Afghan Star, is both uplifting and heartbreaking. While on the Afghan reality show, Setara received death threats and eviction from her apartment over her controversial, barrier-breaking appearance (which was documented in the 2009 documentary Afghan Star). To say Glazer’s inept script dumbs down Setara’s real-life story is an understatement (the role of Salima, who’s based on her, is more a device for Richie’s unconvincing redemption than a fully realized character); even the Taliban would be offended. There’s no insight into the Afghan culture other than that it must suck to live there, and the film makes jokes at the expense of that fact, which wouldn’t be a problem if Glazer’s material showed even just an ounce of intelligence. The only thing I learned from this movie is that singing Cat Stevens’s “Peace Train” solves all of Afghanistan’s problems.

So that’s all we had to do?

With a better script – hell, compared to this, a mediocre one would do – Rock the Kasbah could’ve worked as sharp satire and a winning vehicle for Bill Murray to provide his dependably louche charm. Instead, we get a incompetent, haphazard mess that wastes the talent of both its director and cast. Bill Murray and Barry Levinson’s legacies may be secure, but that doesn’t stop this from being an embarrassing black mark on both of their careers.

Shareef don’t like it, and he sure ain’t the only one.

I give Rock the Kasbah a D- (½★).

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