Directed by Barry Levinson. Starring Bill Murray, Zooey Deschanel. Kate Hudson, Bruce Willis, Danny McBride, Scott Caan.
THE PLOT: Richie Lanz (Bill Murray) is a down on his luck talent agent based in California. When a USO show organiser sees his act Ronnie (Zooey Deschanel) singing in a bar, he gives Lanz the idea to take Ronnie on a tour of US bases in Afghanistan. On arriving in Kabul, Ronnie is disillusioned with the city and quickly absconds with Lanz’s money and passport. To make some cash to find a way home, Lanz agrees to deliver arms to a small village, and while there, discovers Salima (Leem Lubany) has a wonderful voice, and he sets out to convince her to take part on TV show Afghan Star.
THE VERDICT: Inspired by the 2009 documentary film ‘Afghan Star’, ‘Rock the Kasbah’ could be forgiven for having good intentions at its heart; showing Afghanistan to be a country trying to get back on its feet after years of Taliban rule. The trouble is that the script is flabby, the editing strange and although Bill Murray doing the Bill Murray schtick is always wildly entertaining, there needed to be a stronger directorial hand here.
The cast is made up of Bill Murray, Zooey Deschanel, Kate Hudson, Bruce Willis, Scot Caan and Danny McBride, but the trouble is that other than Bill Murray, this wonderful cast are not given a chance to do much. Deschanel disappears after a small freak out, Hudson plays a shockingly stereotypical hooker with a hear of gold, Willis just gets to shout a bit and point guns, and McBride and Caan get to raise a little bit of hell, before being forgotten. This is a serious waste of strong talent.
Screenwriter Mitch Glazer has done some great work with Bill Murray in the past – in the form of ‘Scrooged’ and, to a lesser extent, ‘A Very Murray Christmas’ – but the screenplay here is an absolute mess. Characters come and go, the dialogue is nothing to write home about, and the final moments of the film make little to no sense at all. The character of Salima is interesting on the surface, but other than being feisty and able to sing, she is little more than a plot device.
Director Barry Levinson has made some brilliant political satires in the past, including ‘Good Morning Vietnam’ and ‘Wag the Dog’, but there is none of the director’s trademark critical and biting observations on show here. Instead the film is a watered down showcase of how quirky Bill Murray can be, and a little patronising to the situation going on in Afghanistan at the moment. The film is badly paced, subtitles are notably absent and the final act of the film is a rambling, badly edited mess.
In all, ‘Rock the Kasbah’ relies too heavily on Bill Murray, who is nowhere near on top from here. The rest of the cast come and go seemingly without reason and although the film has good intentions at its heart, it comes off as patronising, flabby and messy.
Review by Brogen Hayes

Rock the Kasbah
Review by Brogen Hayes
1.0Flabby & messy
  • filmbuff2011

    With a title taken from a song by The Clash, Barry Levinson’s new film Rock The Kasbah arrives on these shores with a dull thud, having bombed at the US box office last autumn. That explains why cinemas here have pretty much buried it away at audience-unfriendly times like an embarrassment. It’s not that bad, but it certainly leaves a lot to be desired.

    Richie (Bill Murray) is a talent agent in Van Nuys, California. His star act, Ronnie (Zooey Deschanel), is just waiting to break the big time. That opportunity comes in the form of an offer to tour Afghanistan to perform for the US troops stationed there. Richie and Ronnie head to Kabul. Upon arrival, Ronnie immediately gets nervous when she finds out that she’s under a security escort and can’t leave the hotel unless accompanied by a troop of soldiers (well, what did she expect?). Mercenary Bombay Brian (Bruce Willis) slips her out of the country, leaving Richie without an act. While touring the countryside and meeting a local tribal leader, he comes across a teenage girl singing in a cave. She’s got an amazing voice and Richie immediately tracks her down the next day. Salima (Leem Lubany) is the daughter of the tribal leader, so Richie sneaks her out and helps her achieve her dream: performing American songs on Afghan Star, the local equivalent of American Idol. This raises the ire of the locals though, who regard her with shame…

    As the end credits state, this film is dedicated to an Afghan girl who defied local customs and opinions and performed on live TV in defiance of those killjoys, the Taliban. That He Named Me Malala-style storyline sounds far more interesting than this one. For Rock The Kasbah is a film that really struggles to take off. It doesn’t quite crash into a wall and explode, but it does stall and sputter like a used car with too many miles on it. That’s probably down to Mitch Glazer’s script, which is too lazy to develop the supporting characters properly. Good actors like Deschanel and Kate Hudson are given little to do with their half-baked characters, other than serve as plot points to move Richie’s story along. Casting Murray does the film no favours either – he’s on autopilot here, just being eccentric for the sake of it, rather than being the character actor who can deliver when he wants to. Perhaps he didn’t believe in the script either. What a waste of talent.

    That also extends to Levinson, who once made superb, highly regarded films like Diner, Rain Man and Sleepers, but has become slack of late. His directorial touches like being an actor’s director are not evident here. He seems to be merely going through the motions and putting out a film to say ‘hey, I’m still here’ or just to pay the bills. Admittedly, there are some good scenes in the film – such as the ones between Salima and Richie. There’s also a strain of humour that runs through the film which is occasionally amusing, but there just isn’t enough of it. The upcoming Whiskey Tango Foxtrot tells a story about American civilians in Kabul with a lot more ease and a lot more laughs. That’s the film that Rock The Kasbah really should be – but it ultimately fails. If you see one war comedy set in Kabul this year, then make it Whiskey Tango Foxtrot. Rock The Kasbah just ain’t gonna rock anybody’s walls. **