Tweetable Takeaway: Rock the Kasbah is bizarrely plotted and offers no tension in its runtime. Tweet
Rock the Kasbah may be the strangest thing I’ve seen all year. The entirety of the film seems to take place in some kind of alternate dimension, where no action has true weight or consequences. Or when there are consequences, as long as you’re an American and your name rhymes with Phil Hurry you’ll come out unscathed. In the kingdom of the blind, the one-eyed man is king, and so it is in war-torn Afghanistan, the smarmy Bill Murray is king. In a tonally mismatched script with no manageable plot thread, Rock the Kasbah follows up Aloha and The Counselor in being another case of when bad movies happen to good casts.
Bill Murray plays out of money and out of luck rock manager Richie Lanz. Richie operates out of a sleazy hotel, preying on the hopeful fame-seekers who sing for him by agreeing to represent them in exchange for a small upfront fee ($1,200 for the poor sap example in the movie). In the first of a series of bizarre moments intended to move the story along, an immensely intoxicated man tells Richie that he and his assistant Ronnie (Zooey Deschanel) should really be performing in Afghanistan for the troops. Apparently this is a gig anyone can land and pays great to boot. The two head over, where Ronnie promptly takes Richie’s money, clothes, and passport, also making sure to tell a mercenary that Richie will pay him $1,000 for her transport out of the country. Effectively, Ronnie has murdered Richie.
But not to worry, for the world in this movie isn’t one where such actions carry any real weight. Richie’s sarcastic zingers repeatedly get him out of trouble. Also, luckily for him, the majority of people in Afghanistan happen to be white Americans willing to help him out. Among others, the aforementioned mercenary (an out-of-place Bruce Willis, perhaps a retired and cynical John McClane), a prostitute who has her own trailer and guards in place (Kate Hudson), and two arms-dealers rolling in mountains of cash (Danny McBride and Scott Caan). Any remote sign of Richie failing, and one of these individuals immediately appears and takes care of his problems. It’s as if Richie has some sort of invisible bat-signal that goes off at any moment of strife. After the first two or so times this happens, all tension in the film evaporates. We know we really don’t need to fear for our protagonist’s safety, because he’s constantly saved or manages to talk his way out of any situation.
By the time nearly half the movie has passed, we arrive at the actual synopsis of what the film is supposed to be about. Richie discovers a Pashtun girl in a small community singing in a cave. Upon discovering her, Richie claims to have heard gold and insists on bringing her to Afghan Star (the Afghanistan version of American Idol). Of course, to do so would likely mean death to the girl Salima (Leem Lubany), but as we’ve already established, there’s nothing Richie can’t accomplish, no matter how dangerous. And indeed, after getting her on the reality show after it’s already started and been whittled down to 12 contestants, all kinds of outrage erupts. Not only does Salima sing, but she sings in English as well. Singing in English had never been done on the show, and was another point of contention. Perhaps worst of all, this voice that Richie is putting so many lives at risk for isn’t especially great. It’s certainly not bad, but seeing Richie react so strongly, as if heaven opened and he heard the voice of an angel itself, there’s certainly a disconnect.
Rock the Kasbah progresses the rest of the movie in the same manner. Richie does whatever he wants, there’s no worry that anything truly dangerous will occur. Bill Murray does what he can, in that lovable loser way, but in a film that doesn’t give much to the moviegoers to be invested in, it’s tough to be on board for the ride. By the time the end finally rolls around, there’s a final scene that certainly seems to require an emotional response, but there’s no drive as to what that response should be a reaction to. What exactly is this movie attempting to say? The only thing I took away is that the less you appear to care, and the more you can pull off a sarcastic Bill Murray impersonation successfully, the more likely you’ll survive any situation.
I give Rock the Kasbah 2 invisible bat signals out of 5
Score: 2 out of 5
Wil Loper | Contributor