“Rock the Kasbah” (2015)
Richie Lanz (Bill Murray) is a rock promoter who has seen better days, or at least, he claims to have. He tells stories of the days when he discovered Madonna and gave Stevie Nicks a pep talk when she was nervous before a concert. His one employee, Ronnie (Zooey Deschanel) is also a client, a wannabe singer who dreams of singing her own songs but instead is singing cover songs at Richie’s insistence. During one of her concerts at a dive bar, Richie meets a drunken promoter who handles the USO music tours of Afghanistan. Richie sees the opportunity for a rich paycheck for him and his client: singing in front of the troops.
They fly to Afghanistan and Richie’s singer starts panicking, convinced that they are going to die on the plane and then on the ride to the hotel. While Ritchie is down in the hotel bar, Ronnie freaks out, steals his money and passport, and travels to Dubai with the help of a soldier of fortune. He is stuck in a foreign country without a way to get back home and his meal ticket is nowhere to be found. His luck will change when he hears a beautiful voice singing a very familiar song.
This is one disappointing film. It seems that actors like Bruce Willis and Danny McBride did this movie just for the paycheck. At least McBride tries to have fun in his role of an arm’s merchant. Willis looks as if he is on autopilot. A couple of times you can see a glimmer of a better film, but those moments are few and far between. More often you are frustrated by the weak and lazy script that seems to rely on every character cliché known. You have a smart and sassy hooker (Kate Hudson) who falls for Richie’s charms even though he is 30 years older than her. A cab driver (Arian Moayed) who becomes Richie’s pal and points out the right thing for Richie to do at just the exact right time. You have evil warlords who want to turn local villages into poppy farms and a soldier of fortune (Bruce Willis) who talks tough but has a heart of gold. And then you have the plucky Afghani girl, Salima (Leem Lubany) whose love of singing is so strong that she is willing to risk the wrath of her father and the nation to sing Cat Steven’s songs on an “American Idol”-like TV show. Even Salima’s father (Fahim Fazli) is a cliché, a man who threatens his daughter with death if she sings on TV, but we know he has a good heart because he is willing to stand up to the warlords and not plant poppy plants, even if it costs him his life.
My biggest disappointment is with Murray. He comes off not as the charming and impish actor we all adore but one who is irritating and annoying. Murray tries to put on the charm, but it never clicks, just making the attempt seem tired and lacking any emotion. Murray sings throughout the film but instead of being enduring and funny, the singing seems out of place and goes on way too long to be interesting. There is a horrible scene where Murray sings “Smoke on the Water” to some baffled townspeople that lasts what seems like five years. Murray has almost no chemistry with any of the cast, except for Hudson. Their scenes are at least a little fun as they banter back and forth, but those scenes never really amount to much.
Murray isn’t helped by a script written by Mitch Glazer and direction by Barry Levinson. They give Lubany, who has a beautiful singing voice, absolutely nothing to do but say a few throwaway lines about being brave. Levinson, who directed such gems as “Avalon,” “Diner” and “Wag the Dog,” is at his worst in this film. The film seems choppy, as the transitions from each scene drag and the few action sequences seem stilted. The film lacks any powerful emotional moment, never giving us anything to cheer for. The last ten minutes of this movie just seem to give up and go for the big clichéd finish because the script paints the story into a corner.
While watching this film, kept thinking about Malala, the young Afghani woman who won a Pulitzer Peace Prize because she stood up to the Taliban, risking her life for the idea that everyone deserves an education. At the end of “Rock the Kasbah,” we learn that there was a real woman who sang and danced on a competition TV program shown in Afghanistan. If only Levinson had been more inspired by the story, we might have gotten a movie that would move us instead of boring us. My Rating: Cable
My movie rating system from Best to Worst: 1). I Would Pay to See it Again 2). Full Price 3). Bargain Matinee 4). Cable 5). You Would Have to Pay Me to See it Again
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