Rock the Kasbah – 2 out of 5
Bill Murray has had such an amazing career with a ridiculous number of highlights. He has countless comedies that have gone on to become classics in every sense of the word and has even proven time and time again that the guy can do drama effectively well—hell, even when the dude doesn’t care about the project and is only doing a small fraction of what he is capable of *cough—Ghostbusters 2—cough*, he still manages to stand out and deliver a great performance. Of course, when you have a long career you’re bound to have a few stinkers and some forgettable moments here and there. So, other than putting The Clash song of the same name in my head, where does Rock the Kasbah fall in the grand scheme of things in Murray’s career?
|Don't worry, Murray, I will never stop loving you. I know you're concerned about|
how I feel about you--or, at least, that's what I tell myself.
Based on the documentary Afghan Star, Rock the Kasbah centers on Richie Lanz (Murray); a washed up band manager with only one client left (Zooey Deschanel). However, after he takes her on a USO tour of Afghanistan, she steals his money and his passport and flees back to America. Now stranded and without hope, Lanz ends up discovering a young Afghan woman named Salima (Leem Lubany) who has an incredible voice and he wants to take her on the Afghani version of American Idol. The only problem is the country’s religious and societal background that doesn’t look too kindly on women standing out and it may end up costing both singer and manager their lives.
|If there ever was a place that needed the escape that something as trivial as|
American Idol could supply...
From a concept standpoint, Rock the Kasbah should be a decent, maybe even a great, film. Sure, it can suffer the eye-rolls of the jaded movie-goer and critic that is tired of seeing our recent history with the Middle East adapted into film but the story is a solid premise that definitely can translate to comedy and drama and it has a huge star that has already proven to expertly express said comedy and drama; however, the film somehow takes a huge misstep and doesn’t capitalize on the potential it contains.
|At least her voice delivered...so, there's that.|
On paper, this film is hitting all the right notes. The drama is there in the sense of an Afghan girl going against religious practices and the norms of society; as well in the fact that you have a has-been manager stuck in a world he doesn’t understand. There’s also the comedy element of having a fish-out-of-water tale. The entire plot plays out in ways that should make you laugh and make you feel literally anything but none of the moments carry any weight to them. Salima defying the odds and singing on television should be momentous but just feels sorta thrown out there because it's just expected to be that way. Richie’s frustration over his career and how he ended up in Afghanistan should be at times funny and at times a source of conflict but they never feel this way because the story just feels like it is going through the motions without wanting to put the effort or feeling into it.
|And speaking of not giving any effort...|
This same sense that occurs in the story was felt in the cast. While none of them are really giving cringe-worthy, out-right horrendous performances, none of them really feel like they are trying to stand out either. At times this is easy to deal with because you have a guy who can make a decent performance while only giving 10% in the form of Bill Murray and, at other times, you have just a completely forgettable performance from Bruce Willis—who is literally giving the same amount of fucks he’s been giving for the last decade plus (and that amount is zero, the guy just doesn’t seem to care anymore). Other times it’s just disappointing because so many of the characters feel superfluous and unnecessary to the tale. For example, there’s two young entrepreneurs played by Scott Caan and Danny McBride and it feels like there is potential to their characters but they just show up occasionally to facilitate the plot.
|It's a bit of a heartbreak to see this duo go wasted.|
The same can be said about the prostitute that becomes Richie’s love interest (played by Kate Hudson). She has her place but never does it feel warranted beyond just an expected love interest and someone to move the plot forward. Even worse is when one of the main elements of the film; Salima herself, feels like a plot device who is just a placeholder to move the story along. While much of this is to blame on the weak writing, performances that feel restrained at best and just not caring at worse makes these characters who either are the main point or have the potential to play great supporting roles feel completely wasted. While this isn’t a deal-killer in most cases, it does hurt the overall lack of emotional attachment I was unable to achieve with the film.
|So many characters just feel like they're are just...there. And that's it.|
While Rock the Kasbah isn’t a boring story or terribly put together film, it’s just one that doesn’t embrace the potential it clearly held. The visuals of the Afghan locales are gorgeous and the film uses music within its story terrifically but it just fails at really creating an impact with all its comedy and emotion that it has. Even with characters that aren’t sharply written or performances that just aren't too commanding and attention-grabbing, this film could have worked if it stopped given the bare minimum and gave even 10% more effort—only then there might have been an emotional connection and feeling to it all.