‘Rock the Kasbah’ misses the mark

Bill Murray as Richie Lanz and in ROCK THE KASBAH to be released by Open Road Films Photo credit: Kerry Brown / Distributor: Open Road Films

Rock the Kasbah is a movie with so much potential. It stars Bill Murray, features Zooey Deschanel, Bruce Willis, Kate Hudson, Scott Caan, and Danny McBride. Murray even promoted the movie by showing up at Comic Con for the first time to do a genuinely funny panel and answer fan questions. With all that going for it, it’s such a shame the movie misses the mark by a mile.

Murray stars as Richie Lanz, a washed-up music manager who swindles talentless fools out of their money. His only hope is his assistant/star Ronnie (Deschanel) who only sings cover songs in crappy bars. In one of said crappy bars, a guy informs Richie that USO shows are always looking for talent, and there is tons of money to be made in performing for the military. Richie, being both greedy and enterprising, convinces Ronnie to accompany him to Afghanistan to perform. Once they get there, she’s incredibly freaked out by being in a war zone, steals his money and passport (for some reason) and hightails it out of there—seriously, that’s the last time we see or hear from her character for the entire movie.

(Left to right) Bill Murray as Richie Lanz and Kate Hudson as Merci in ROCK THE KASBAH to be released by Open Road Films. Photo credit:  Kerry Brown / Distributor:  Open Road Films

Richie has to try to figure out how to go home without a passport, but help is offered in the form of American arms dealers, played by Caan and McBride, who let him know that anything can be bought for a price. They take him to a party in the sketchy part of Kabul during wartime—so you can only imagine how sketchy we’re talking here—where he meets an American prostitute named Merci, who is inexplicably taking a seductive dip in the pristine swimming pool with her clothes on. Oh, I’m sorry, were you expecting this movie to make sense? I was too at first, but after about fifteen minutes, I quickly abandoned all hope of that. Our arms dealers basically serve as a way to introduce Richie and Merci, and are never heard from again, like so many characters in this film.

(Left to right) Bruce Willis and Bill Murray in ROCK THE KASBAH to be released by Open Road Films. Photo credit: ÊKerry Brown / Distributor: ÊOpen Road Films

Shortly afterward, Richie goes with Bombay Brian (Willis) a mercenary who delivers weapons as part of the arms dealing operation. The actual plot begins when they make a drop at a Pashtun village, which is painted in such a simplistic, one-dimensional way that I wondered if it was actually located in Derkaderkastan. While everyone is asleep, Richie wakes up and hears a woman named Salima (Leem Lubany) singing, which is something she must do in secret because it’s illegal for women to sing. He pursues her and finds that she’s got a whole cave living room set up where she can sing and watch Afghan Star, an American-Idol-like singing competition show out of Kabul that is the biggest thing in the country. Despite the fact that Richie has shown absolutely zero signs of being anything besides a swindler this whole time, he recognizes a future star when he sees one, and he begins a quest to convince the girl to go on the show. Of course, this doesn’t sit well with her father (Fahim Fazli), who decides to bring her back from the big city and make sure she never sings again—which he plans to do by being mad at her, not by executing her, as you might think.

(Left to right) Leem Lubany as Salima and Bill Murray as Richie Lanz in ROCK THE KASBAH to be released by Open Road Films.

But oh no, it’s not over yet. Salima has a dream, and music can stop wars and bring about world peace, and hell, maybe even cure the sick while we’re at it. Richie and his disco-loving cab driver buddy Riza (Arian Moayed) go back to the village with Bombay Brian because the village is about to be under siege by a warlord and they’ve just learned that the villagers only have faulty bullets. Seriously, bear with me here. They can provide real bullets so the villagers can fend off the warlord, and this should make them all best friends, so Salima’s dad should be cool with her being on TV after that, right? Of course! After a sequence that reminded me so much of The Three Amigos that I was wondering if we were going to see an old Pashtun woman “sew like the wind”, the villagers defeat the warlord and Salima’s dad suddenly turns totally supportive and lets her go on TV to sing “Peace Train” at the finale of Afghan Star. See guys? The power of music, right?

While there were some funny moments and I laughed out loud numerous times (because Bill Murray is funny, even with a crappy script) I was so disappointed in Rock the Kasbah. I wanted to like this movie so badly. I was so excited when I saw the cast and heard the premise, which is loosely based on a true story. It just seemed like characters popped in and out at screenwriter Mitch Glazer’s convenience instead of in any type of logical way. What ever happened with Richie’s daughter, who we met for a brief moment and then quickly abandoned? And how about the American soldier (Taylor Kinney) who was like Richie’s guide in the country before the USO show? Wouldn’t the arms dealers be pissed that Bombay Brian gave the village a whole trunk load of free weapons? Are American military guys paid to just sit outside and guard Merci’s f-shack 24/7 or is that some kind of volunteer program? How did Penny Lane Merci end up in Afghanistan? And why, oh why, would Ronnie have stolen Richie’s passport in the first place? When the holes are this glaring, it’s hard to go along for the ride, even with Bill Murray and all the Cat Stevens music.

Alexis Gentry

Alexis Gentry is the creator and editor of Trashwire.com. She has been called a “dynamic, talented and unique voice in pop culture” by Ben Lyons of E! and, with her strong fascination with entertainment and penchant for writing, it’s not hard to see why.

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