A brain-dead comedy apparently inspired by the documentary Afghan Star, Rock the Kasbah provides an opportunity for Bill Murray to sleepwalk through a movie and he seizes it. A muddled mess from Barry Levinson, the film is completely and utterly pointless.
Murray plays Richie Lanz, a down-on-his-heels music manager who becomes stranded in Afghanistan without money and passport. When he acts as a go-between in an arms deal between shady Americans Jake (Scott Caan) and Nick (Danny McBride) and Afghan villagers, he stumbles onto Salima (Leem Lubany), an elder’s daughter with a beautiful voice. Richie, who has always lied about at one time handling major stars, sees Salima as his big chance and schemes to get her on the talent program Afghan Star.
The material never even rises to the level of a bad sitcom. Mitch Glazer’s script is tone deaf and culturally insensitive and seems to have only a passing familiarity with that thing known as “humor.” The film wastes a large cast that in addition to Caan and McBride, includes Zooey Deschanel as Ronnie, a singer and one of Lanz’s deluded clients; Kate Hudson as Merci, a hooker aiming to make her fortune through brisk trade with GIs and warlords (one has to wonder what Almost Famous’ Penny Lane was thinking in taking a role that echoes it, reminding audiences that she was once up for better parts); and Bruce Willis, saddled with the role of Bombay Brian, a mercenary without an ounce of humor. There is also a large Arabic supporting cast playing a variety of cultural stereotypes.
Nearly 30 years ago Glazer wrote (with Michael O’Donoghue) Scrooged for Murray and he also co-wrote the actor’s upcoming ‘A Very Murray Christmas.’ Levinson had one of his greatest successes with another wartime comedy, Good Morning, Vietnam. Perhaps those factors convinced Murray to sign on to Rock the Kasbah, but he apparently realized early on that he had contracted himself to a turkey. His boredom with and contempt for the material is obvious. He generates the occasional laugh, but that’s Murray being Murray in a woeful excuse for a movie.—Pam Grady