Because we have great affection for the Bill Murray of ‘Stripes,” “Ghostbusters” and “Groundhog Day,” we tend to give him a pass on the movies that attempt to cash in on his reputation, but the charade is over in “Rock the Kasbah” as he sleepwalks through this uneven, mostly charmless comedy.
Coasting as an older version of Nick the Lounge Singer he created for “Saturday Night Live,” Murray is Richie Lanz, a has-been rock music promoter, who becomes a better person through his belief in a Pashtun female singer in war torn Afghanistan.
Loosely based on the real achievement of Lima Sahar, who broke barriers in 2008 to appear on her country’s version of “American Idol,” this muddled mess wastes much talent and fritters away our goodwill toward certain performers.
The slick-talking opportunist Lanz whisks his receptionist/client Ronnie (Zooey Deschanel, spot on as wannabe rocker) away on a lucrative USO Tour. But things fall apart in Kabul and she bails, after being helped by a strange mercenary Bombay (Bruce Willis).
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Lanz hooks up with a pair of former Herbalife salesmen turned arms dealers (hilarious Danny McBride and Scott Caan), who use him for a delivery, but not before a joy ride in a Ford LTD convertible — the movie’s best scene.
While the mission goes wrong, he hears the voice of an angel. Salima (beautiful Leem Lubany) dreams of appearing on “Afghan Star,” and Lanz vows to make it happen, no matter how many customs and laws are broken.
She gets her moment to wow everyone with (lip-synched) renditions of Cat Stevens’ classics “Wide World” and “Peace Train.”
And the jerk is saved from being a total miscreant, the Murray template.
With a director such as Barry Levinson (“Good Morning Vietnam,” “Wag the Dog”), you expect the material to be sharp, but Mitch Glazer’s script is borderline offensive. Glazer wrote “Scrooged,” and can write funny lines for Murray’s usually obnoxious characters, and the music business references are entertaining. It’s best when Murray is dropping names, trying so hard not to just be a legend in his own mind.
The cadre of eccentric characters only reinforces how meandering this movie is. Kate Hudson does a riff on her “Almost Famous” groupie character, but now she’s an in-demand prostitute set up in a double-wide trailer on an Army base. Miss Merci ditches it all to help Murray and becomes his business partner?
The reality of this reality TV-themed movie suffers by its random twists and condescension to the local citizenry. “Rock the Kasbah” is lost in translation.
Rock the Kasbah
- Director: Barry Levinson
- Starring: Bill Murray, Kate Hudson, Bruce Willis, Zooey Deschanel, Danny McBride, Scott Caan, Leem Lubany, Taylor Kinney, and Arian Moayed
- Rated: R language, including sexual references, some drug use and brief violence.
- Length: 1:40