Director: Barry Levinson
Starring: Bill Murray, Bruce Willis, Kate Hudson, Leem Lubany, Zooey Deschanel, Danny McBride, Scott Caan
Written by: Mitch Glazer
Running Time: 106 mins
Release date: 18th March 2016
There was a time when anything that Bill Murray touched turned to gold. Even the most dubious script was made funny by Murray’s sardonic deadpan delivery. It seems, sadly, that those days are long gone because Rock The Kasbah, a film that cannot decide if it wants to be an out-and-out comedy or a slice of satire, is a mess that even the great Bill Murray cannot save. In fact, in a way, it’s made all the worse by his presence.
Richie Lanz is a down-on-his-luck music promoter and manager who hasn’t had a hit star in years. When it’s suggested he takes his one and only “decent” act out to perform for the troops in Afghanistan, he soon finds himself in a war-torn city with a singer who has left him with no passport and no money, meeting unwelcoming types until he accidentally discovers a young girl singing in a cave, who he believes he could turn into a star by putting her on Afghan Star, a TV talent show.
It’s hard to know where the real problems lie with this film. Based very loosely on stranger-than-fiction real life events, where a woman appeared on the popular singing show, breaking the boundaries of what is acceptable for a woman, the film feels like it doesn’t know how to handle such sensitive material. Director Barry Levinson is no stranger to “dangerous” comedies, having directed Good Morning, Vietnam with Robin Williams. Surely he knows that something as important as a woman changing the shape of a nation should be easy to depict on-screen with a comedy legend in the lead.
However, the film lumbers along at an unbelievably plodding rate, with misfiring one-liners and a cast of truly unlikeable characters, none more so than Murray’s Ritchie Lanz, a sleazeball promoter who lies and cheats in order to stay afloat. Murray would normally have no problems with making him slightly more agreeable, yet for some reason, the delivery of every line is monotone to the point of annoyance.
The rest of the cast lumber in and out of Ritchie’s life without any purpose or meaning, just in order for him to more from one stagnant set piece to another. We have the quiet yet violent behind the eyes mercenary, the tart with the heart and the translating taxi driver, plus two former Herbalife salesmen who now sell ammo. These are pure clichés of characters that turn up in every fish-out-of-water comedy, so all the attention lies heavily on the central character pulling it together and if he can’t do it the rest of the film goes south.
With half the movie having Murray roaming around Afghanistan, it tries to play for laughs but they keep missing the target. Even a scene where Murray plays Smoke On The Water goes on way too long without even a smile being broken. The second half, which should have been the main focus of the film, about how the television station feels about having a woman singing, could have been spiky and punchy and have something to say about modern values. Instead, it goes off on a tangent, losing both the interest of the audience and, in this reviewer case, myself.
Bruce Willis pops up as the mercenary who seems to have wandered in from another movie, while Kate Hudson, as the prostitute who wins Murray’s heart, gets to wear very little and has nothing much else to do. Only a brief appearance from Danny McBride and Scott Caan as the weapons sellers does the film have a little life injected into it.
Rock The Kasbah flopped badly in the States when it was released last year and I can see exactly why. Murray isn’t the star he use to be or is he the comic he once was. Neither is Levinson the director who made classics like Diner and Avalon. Both men seem to have seen better days. Rock The Kasbah is, without a doubt, a disaster and I hate saying that.