Rock the Kasbah

Open Road                                  106 Minutes                             R

Take Bill Murray as a down-on-his luck talent manager stranded in a war zone. Throw in a feel-good show-biz story from Afghanistan. Get writer Mitch Glazer (who worked with Murray on SCROOGED) and Director Barry Levinson (who directed Dustin Hoffman to an Oscar in RAIN MAN) and you get the jumbled, disappointing ROCK THE KASBAH.

Murray plays Richie Lanz, who books his last remaining client Ronnie (Zooey Deschanel) on a USO Tour in Afghanistan where she promptly freaks out and runs off with his money and passport. Armed only with his glib one liners, Richie finds a couple of ugly American arms dealers (Danny McBride and Scott Caan), an unhinged soldier of fortune ( Bruce Willis) and the adorably vulgar hooker with the Heart of gold (Kate Hudson). Hudson delivers the funniest line of the movie when she promises Murray a sexual adventure that involves Mouseketeers and crack!

In the middle of the Afghan outback, Richie hears singing. She is the best female vocalist ever. Of course he decides to get her a spot on the local version of “American Idol” called “Afghan Star”. This story is roughly based on the first female to sing on Afghan TV, but here’s where it really gets bogged down.

Every character is a stereotype. From the racist, ignorant Americans to the tribesman riding in on horseback, every set piece is a predictable set up for a witty line from Murray. He’s gone back to playing the character we remember from his early comedies, but this time he’s forced to show more heart and empathy. It all comes up short.There just aren’t that many good laughs and the characters never emotionally connect with the audience.

You’ll hear plenty of music and lots of Rock star name-dropping. But none of it is more than window dressing for what this $15 million movie is really about. It’s a way to put Bill Murray in every scene. When Salima (Leem Lubany) is performing on TV, there are almost as many cutaway shots of Murray as there are of her song.

The film was shot in Morocco and Afghanistan. Cinematographer Sean Bobbitt pointed his lens at lots of desolate, monochrome landscape. Much like the people he had to aim his camera at as well.

Is this movie worth your bucks? Bill Murray has achieved cult-like star status. This movie is a pale throw back to some of his funnier films. The direction and writing show no respect for the Afghan culture. There is no clear creativity in this work. The audience gets bounced around from gross out humor to supposed deep political thoughts. An Afghan village leader delivers this line, “I am tired of war and I cannot afford the peace”. But lines like this have no resonance or power butted up against a Bruce Willis scowl or Bill Murray wailing Smoke ’n’ the Water.

If you need a Bill Murray fix, ROCK THE KASBAH will give you more than enough. Unfortunately, this Kasbah is not rockin’.