Bill Murray Rolls Downhill in ‘Rock the Kasbah’

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Average: 5 (1 vote) Oscarman rating: 1.5/5.0
Rating: 1.5/5.0

CHICAGO – What’s up with this movie? Everything in it is so wrong headed, despite movie star casting and a attempt toward “current events.” Setting itself in a modern and complex country – Afghanistan – but creating a perspective on that country that is straight ugly American, “Rock the Kasbah” is a total downer.

The problem is the screenplay – credited to Mitch Glazer – that perpetuates nothing but stereotypes about the mystery of Afghanistan, and is a typical and negligent outsider’s view of another country. The privileged white expatriates are above it all, and the natives are either murderous swine or capitulators who aid the white saviors. It seemed like a studio era (1930s-50s) movie view of exotic lands, where the citizens of those lands waited for outsiders to “civilize” them. That view is tiresome in our globally connected times, and placed within the context of a Bill Murray “comedy,” is especially senseless.

Murray is a low level rock music promoter named Richie Lanz. He works out of a sleazy motel (natch) and for is trying to get the career of Ronnie (Zooey Deschanel) off the ground. During one of her appearances at a club, Richie finds out that the USO is looking for performers to entertain the troops in Afghanistan, so he and Ronnie fly to that country. They are greeted in the conflict zone by the military, and a mercenary named Bombay Brian (Bruce Willis).

Bill Murray
The Poster Rendering of Bill Murray in ‘Rock the Kasbah’
Photo credit: Open Road Films (II)

They also encounter a colorful cast of n’er do wells and natives. Jake (Scott Caan) and NIck (Danny McBride) are American weapon runners, and they ask Richie to deliver artillery to a remote village. There he discovers a new singer named Salima (Leem Lubany) – so Richie’s new obsession is to get his discovery on local TV’s “Afghan Idol.” It’s just too bad local customs forbids a woman to appear on the show, and her angry father also strictly forbids it. How will Richie solve this dilemma?

Richie will solve it by being “Bill Murray,” as if the very presence of the persona will bring world peace, and solve tribal dissension. It’s ridiculous, it’s incredible lazy screen writing and ultimately, it doesn’t fit into the Murray-style legacy. There is no indication of what motivates Richie to pursue a singer who goes against territorial and (presumably) religious customs in their own land, and the way he convinces everybody to make it happen is virtually impossible, except that he is “Bill Murray.”

Also, the isolationism on display is nakedly apparent. There was a very funny scene from the film “Throw Momma from the Train” (1987), where a creative writing student reads her story about a submarine rescue, but has no familiarity with submarine details (“’Dive… DIVE’ yelled the captain through the thing.”). This is exactly what “Rock the Kasbah” felt like, a movie set in Afghanistan where the filmmakers – including veteran director Barry Levinson – have no idea what Afghanistan is about, yet injects their own isolated view of the American Dream in an exceedingly complex war zone. It was all surface, and no depth, in a place and time that screams for more details.

A perfect example of this is the Kate Hudson character, “Merci.” She is the hooker with the heart of gold, first encountering Richie at a bizarre fantasy water scene, and bragging how her sex skills will rock his world. There is no backlash to this preposterous character, who jokes to the line of soldiers outside her trailer – when she has to send them away – that they are avoiding an STD. She appears and disappears in the story with abandon, but in the end she is as heroic as the Murray character.

Bill Murray
Ronnie (Zooey Deschanel) with Richie (Bill Murray) in ‘Rock the Kasbah’
Photo credit: Open Road Films (II)

And speaking of disappearances, characters go “poof’ with a strange frequency in this film. The American gun runners, exemplified by the increasingly annoying Danny McBride “personality,” do something that would put them in extreme danger (not to mention having a rock promoter deliver weaponry), and then are never seen again. The Bruce Willis character is completely odd and doesn’t fit into any of his scenes. Zooey Deschanel is there, until she isn’t. It smacked of a wacky Hollywood contest, where the actor winners would get a chance to have a Bill Murray film on their resume (yes, even Willis), but they never had to worry about putting in a complete commitment, because the production and story would work around their schedules – or they would just eliminate their characters into thin air. It was truly bizarre, and it splintered an already hard-to-follow set up.

I will give the actors portraying the Afghans a break (except maybe to say that Richie found the two people in the country that spoke perfect English)…they were victims of the American Exceptionalism that says Murray had to be the hero. This was on the creators of the film, which threw the country under the bus, to be run over like the Russians were when they tried to conquer Afghanistan.

”Rock the Kasbah” opened everywhere on October 23rd. Featuring Bill Murray, Bruce Willis, Kate Hudson, Zooey Deschanel, Danny McBride, Scott Caan and Leem Lubany. Screenplay by Mitch Glazer. Directed by Barry Levinson. Rated “R” senior staff writer Patrick McDonald

Writer, Editorial Coordinator

© 2015 Patrick McDonald,

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