Rock the Kasbah (1 star)

Rock the Kasbah

Barry Levinson helms a dismal dramedy starring Bill Murray and Bruce Willis

‘Nobody tours Afghanistan,’ Richie Lanz’s estranged daughter warns him. ‘Well, nobody good.’ Enduring Barry Levinson’s desperate, based-on-a-true-story dramedy, you have to agree. Bill Murray plays Richie, a down-on-his-luck talent manager who takes his best act / secretary Ronnie (Zooey Deschanel) to perform to the troops in the Afghan desert. But when she does a runner, leaving Richie broke in war-ravaged Kabul, the military are not the only ones left unentertained.

It takes about 45-minutes for Rock the Kasbah’s real focal point to emerge – the tale of Salima (Leem Lubany playing a composite character), the first woman to sing on the Afghan Star TV show amid a storm of religious protests and death threats. But nobody seems to have any confidence in Salima’s story, so instead we watch (the fictional) Richie bro-ing about with arms dealers (Danny McBride and Scott Caan), a mercenary (Bruce Willis), and Kate Hudson’s canny prostitute.

Needless to say, there’s a bit of a disconnect watching 65-year-old Murray romancing 36-year-old Hudson, and it’s depressingly reductive that the only woman with any agency here is a sex worker. But it just goes to show how badly Levinson and co have misjudged their material. Turns out, it’s ruinously hard to raise a smile at IEDs and arms deals gone awry, especially in a conflict that’s still raging. No doubt it’s meant to be satire, but it feels like profiteering.

At one point Murray wails ‘Smoke on the Water’ to a courtyard full of dubiously portrayed Afghan warlords. It’s supposed to be a charming character note, but you just want him to stop. Meanwhile, Salima’s story is all but swept away in favour of Richie’s phoney bid for redemption which climaxes in – what else? – a gunfight. It’s a jarring, possibly reshot, ending to an unfunny mess that will leave viewers, like Richie himself, wondering just how the hell they got here.

General release from Fri 18 Mar.

Rock the Kasbah

  • 1 star
  • 2015
  • US
  • 1h 46min
  • 15
  • Directed by: Barry Levinson
  • Written by: Mitch Glazer
  • Cast: Bill Murray, Bruce Willis, Zooey Deschanel, Kate Hudson, Leem Lubany

Down-on-his-luck talent manager Richie (Murray) takes his best act Ronnie (Deschanel) to perform to troops if Afghanistan, but then she does a runner. The real focal point is (or should be) local singer Salima (Lubany), but the film lacks confidence in her story and vastly misjudges the material, making for an unfunny mess.