Monday, October 19, 2015

“Rock The Kasbah”– Movie Review



This week, I attended a New York Times Film Club screening for the New York City premiere of the new comedy, “Rock The Kasbah”, starring Bill Murray and directed by Barry Levinson.


When a sleazy talent agent is stranded in Afghanistan, he discovers a young woman who could become a successful singer – but since public performances by women are culturally forbidden, will he risk his own life as well as that of his new discovery?



As a talent agent, there have been better days for Richie Lanz (Murray).  With his career highlights in the distant past, Lanz is forced to resort to unscrupulous methods to make a living out of his cramped Van Nuys, California office.  He’s not only conned himself into thinking there’s a light at the end of the tunnel, he’s also managed to con his only employee (Zooey Deschanel), a receptionist who aspires to become a singer-songwriter.  When Lanz is talked into bringing his singing receptionist on a USO tour in Afghanistan to entertain the troops, things turn sour quickly when she abandons him in a fleabag Kabul hotel, stealing his money, his plane tickets home and his passport. 

After the American Embassy informs Lanz he’ll have to wait weeks until they can get him home, he decides to take the road less travelled and accept an offer from a couple of racketeers (Danny McBride and Scott Caan) to deliver munitions to a tribe trying to fend off rebels who wish to overtake their village.  Once there, Lanz meets Salima (Leem Lubany), a teenage girl with true singing talent; hearing her voice, he’s convinced he’s just found his next big act.  Sneaking Salima out of her village, Lanz pays a Kabul prostitute (Kate Hudson) to board her while arranging for her to appear on a national television show, “Afghan Star” – that country’s version of the talent contest “American Idol”.

Salima’s appearance is a big hit and she’s very popular with the viewers – except her father has now been embarrassed as such performances by a female are viewed unfavorably in their culture.  After Salima’s father spirited her back to their village, she is now in danger of being disqualified by the talent show because of her absence.  With outraged villagers looking to kill both Salima and her father – not to mention Lanz – can Lanz somehow manage to not only save their lives but also get Salima back on the show for a final performance that may help her win the contest?


Sadly, it is difficult to recall seeing the great Bill Murray work so hard for so few laughs as he does in “Rock The Kasbah”.  For something that attempts to fob itself off as a comedy, laughs in “Rock The Kasbah” are indeed few and far between.  Most of the responsibility for eliciting comic moments seem to be left up to Murray, who valiantly tries to stir up lighthearted scenes despite material that isn’t particularly willing to meet him half way.  The screenplay was written by Mitch Glazer, who has a rather impressive track record when it comes to comedy writing, so the lack of jokes is a puzzle. 

“Rock The Kasbah” pushes the limit in length, at least for a comedy – it comes in at one and three-quarter hours which is pretty much the upper limit for that genre (although they tend to fare better at an hour and a half).  The reason for this is that the script is rather plot-heavy, which is a sure-fire comedy killer; comedies should have a rather thin, simple plot, which is present for no other reason that to provide opportunities for jokes.  Instead, the story for “Rock The Kasbah” gets very involved, overcomplicating matters unnecessarily.  Also, there’s a rather serious scene late in the film that takes you out of the comedic mindset altogether. 

The germ of the idea for this movie is apparently based on real-life events – a courageous young woman who actually did sing and dance on “Afghan Star”.  Since this seems to be the inspiration for the film, it might’ve been better if the filmmakers tried to pull it off as a straight drama instead of injecting comic elements that seemed out of place.  Prior to the screening, Murray helped introduce the motion picture along with Levinson, Glazer, Hudson, Deschanel and Bruce Willis (who has a small part as a mercenary).  Murray mentioned everyone had to shoot the movie under tough conditions in a rugged terrain (it was shot in Morocco). 


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