Sunday, October 25, 2015

Review: Rock the Kasbah

Image courtesy of Open Road Films.
It's always an added bonus to have Bill Murray onboard your film, even when the picture itself doesn't quite make the best of his presence. That's certainly the case with "Rock the Kasbah," the latest film from Barry Levinson that stars Murray as a washed up rock 'n' roll talent manager who claims to have once hung with the greats, but now lives out of a motel with his secretary/talent (Zooey Deschanel), a singer of modest ability who sings cover songs during gigs at dive bars.

Murray often plays louts who come to respect and be more considerate of those around him - think "Groundhog Day" as the gold standard as well as last year's "St. Vincent" - through shared experiences.

In "Kasbah," his Richie Lanz is offered to take Deschanel on a tour in Afghanistan, where she will be performing for the troops. But once they've arrived and are greeted with a few IEDs, she flees with the help of a paramilitary character played by Bruce Willis, one of several underwritten characters in the film, and Lanz is forced to find a replacement.

Through sheer luck, he overhears an Afghani girl named Salima (Leem Lubany) as she sings in a cave near her village, is impressed by her voice and attempts to convince her father to allow her to compete in "Afghan Star," which is an equivalent to "American Idol," with the exception of its having a "no girls allowed" policy. In other words, if Salima attempts to sing on the show - or pretty much anywhere else - she's putting her life in danger.

This is the type of film in which the lead character collects an assortment of oddballs - a random Afghani cab driver who is willing to risk his life during the number of incidents in which Richie puts it in danger, Willis's inexplicable gun-for-hire and Kate Hudson as a prostitute who runs her business out of a mobile home in Kabul, that is, until the screenwriters decided that she'd be the "hooker with a heart of gold" character, so she allows Salima to stay with her - for the hell of it, without much purpose for them to serve.

So, the deal is this: while it's still great to watch Murray be, well, Bill Murray, the rest of the film goes back and forth between creating actual tension and running off the rails. Much of what takes place forces the viewer to extend disbelief to great lengths - for example, would Murray's character really have made it out alive during the numerous times when he is stopped by various characters with assault weapons in the desert? And the entire final section of the film - no matter how good natured and well meaning it may be - in which Salima performs on "Afghan Star," not to mention the reaction to it, stretches credibility by magnitudes.

"Rock the Kasbah" is not a bad movie. It has its funny moments, which is a given when you've got Murray as your lead (gotta love his "I'm not a loser, I'm a quitter" quip), and it has its heart in the right place. But, unfortunately, it often has its head in the wrong place. This seems like the type of story that might take place in an alternate universe, but maybe not in Afghanistan, despite that it's allegedly based on a true story. Then again, so was "The Haunting in Connecticut."

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