Rock the Kasbah (2015)

Directed by Barry Levinson

Contains spoilers.

Bill Murray seems to have a penchant for portraying jerks in a somewhat lovable way. From Phil Connors to Steve Zissou, Murray has a knack at taking folks with social incongruities and making them almost charming. And that talent comes in handy.

Murray plays Richie Lanz, a talent manager who, by his account, discovered Madonna, among a flurry of other famous musicians. He's down on his luck at the moment (living in sleazy motels) but manages to snag a USO tour for his only singer, Ronnie (Zooey Deschanel). On their first day in Afghanistan's capital, Kabul, Ronnie gets scared and leaves, taking all of their money, belongings, and Richie's passport. Naturally, Richie freaks out and, in searching for Ronnie, meets various people who prove to be extremely helpful in his predicament; he meets two arms dealers, a smart prostitute, a Pashtun taxi driver, and a mercenary. Nick and Jake give Richie more than $15,000 in cash to finish a job for them: deliver a huge shipment of ammunition to a small, Pashtun village a few hours outside of the city. He does. He's invited to spend the night at the village and agrees to complete the deal. In the middle of the night he hears a girl singing and stumbles through the night and into a cave where he finds Salima (Leem Lubany). He's stunned by her voice and wants to work with her, becoming intent to get her on the competitive singing show Aghan Star with the strong belief that she can win.

Despite being a comedy Levinson doesn't imbue his movie with a whole lot of humor. Rock the Kasbah is almost like a flip flopper of a drama that begs us to find it funny. But it's too serious. It's too forced. The characters are all selfish. And Richie's just a bad character. Yes, there's a few laughs to be had but it feels like Levinson doesn't have a clear vision. It's almost like the screenplay was originally meant to be an inspiring musical that came out the other end a half-assed comedy with Bill Murray at the fore. Don't get me wrong... Murray can do both dramatic and comedic enterprises but that requires some distinct direction. The dialogue, characters, situations, and dialogue almost never feel humorous but rather like serious things done in a somewhat funny way.

 

Levinson's movie (from a screenplay by Mitch Glazer) tries desperately to be culturally respectful but instead has a distinct racism about it. It's really astonishing the degree to which white people can affect disaster (or inspiration in the case of Hollywood) in foreign and often third-world countries, because a musically inclined girl couldn't have the inspiration or will to try out for a singing competition on her own and a man of color could never have been the one to help her. Instead, a down-on-his-luck white man who lies about his entire career as a rock tour manager is the only person who can help Salima and literally flies to her country and drives to her village to do so because of what Richie, himself, describes as being something like fate: "I'm here for a reason."

There just isn't enough for Rock the Kasbah to be compelling. There are some humanitarian ideas and racial tension being tossed around but Levinson doesn't go far enough with them. And in the end he tries to turn Salima and Richie's story into one about musical inspiration and following your passion: be true to yourself no matter the outside pressures to be someone else. But that message is so forced that it makes me want to actively conform just to spite this movie. No magic-eared, smooth-tongued white man is going to leave a shitty, Van Nuys motel and fly to my town to offer me a better life after hearing me sing.

It doesn't matter how the story was written. The dialogue isn't compelling. Richie Lanz isn't compelling. His story is boring, trite, and forced, regardless of any politically motivated/anti-religion/inspirational messages.

 
 

TL;DR: There are a few comedic moments peppered through Richie's story, but overall Rock the Kasbah is uninteresting. Bill Murray brings Richie Lanz to life as a boring con artist but the movie is fairly lifeless. The messages of passion fall flat... Come on team... Levinson... Murray... you can do so much better than this.

  • Acting – 8 / 20
  • Story – 5 / 20
  • Cinematography – 8 / 20
  • Soundtrack – 3 / 10
  • Entertainment Factor – 3 / 10
  • Music/Comedy – 3 / 10
  • Other – 0 / 10
 

Grade F = 30 / 100