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.