Rock The Kasbah(2015)
- RatedNC16 /GenreComedy
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About seven years ago, there was a documentary called, 'Afghan Star' that examined the lives of four reality TV contestants on an Afghan version of 'American Idol'. It was engaging and incisive, reflecting the changes the war-torn country was undergoing.
Everything that the Barry Levinson directed 'Rock the Kasbah', which references the television show, is not. The film starts badly and ends up worse, and even though it's labeled as a comedy, laughs are sorely lacking.
Bill Murray plays Richie Lanz, a music producer who spends his days fleecing wannabe musicians. At a gig for his assistant (Zooey Deschanel), he learns of opportunities playing to US troops in Afghanistan. and heads over to Kabul hoping to score a fortune. Before long, Lanz is in all kinds of trouble, loses his passport and gets on the bad side of a tattooed mercenary, played by Bruce Willis.
But it's not all bad. He does meet Merci, a prostitute, played by Kate Hudson, who's trying to score some cash before retiring. After an operation to transport some bullets goes sour, Lanz ends up in a village and discovers Salima (Leem Lubany), a singer with the ability to get through to his jaded soul. He tries his best to promote Salima, which involves getting her an opportunity to sing on 'Afghan Idol'. A pity all that name dropping doesn't really work well in Afghanistan.
The combination of Levinson and Murray has no magic at all, and Murray's deadpan acting here has little charm. A wartime comedy is difficult to pull off, and Levinson fails to capture the laughs and vibrancy he did with 'Good Morning, Vietnam', which balanced laughs and pathos almost perfectly.
Bill Murray and Kate Hudson in 'Rock The Kasbah'
'Rock the Kasbah' just falls flat from the start and sheds all attempts at being a comedy in the final third, trying to hammer home its simplified message of peace.
Murray looks like he hasn't slept in a decade, and despite his age, has a daughter who's not even a teenager. Hudson and Willis play one-dimensional cliches, and Hudson's prostitute seems as believable as a genie. The non-American talent similarly lack any real depth and are just foils for Murray to riff on.
The plot's contrivances are ultimately pointless. The film's biggest failure is its imperialistic 'I know better' attitude lazily trotted out. The movie's biggest issue is that it suffers from a saviour complex. Complete outsider Lanz seems to think he knows what Afghanistan needs - songs sung in English by a woman.
In real life, the TV show 'Afghan Star' has accepted female singers as contestants, and those women didn't have Western production executives printing out flyers or getting C130s to drop them onto the population.
With its patronizing tone, 'Rock The Kasbah' is off-tune from the start and is definitely one of the year's worst films.
'Rock The Kasbah' opens 6 November 2015