Rock The Kasbah Movie Review
Bill Murray plays Richie Lanz, an aging, washed up music manager who finds his way to Afghanistan hoping to make an easy buck managing an unknown singer (Zooey Deschanel) to entertain the troops. Those plans quickly go awry as Richie finds himself stranded, broke and without a passport. Fortunately, Richie stumbles upon a beautiful female voice singing alone in a cave. She also happens to speak English better than any member of her tribe. As it is forbidden for a woman to perform on television and against her father’s wishes, they must overcome the dangers and religious laws of the culture and expose this girl’s talent on the popular television show that is Afghanistan’s version of American Idol.
I think it’s important to note that I am not a fan of singing in general. The importance the world applies to said talent is blown way out of proportion. I think the slew of successful singing competitions over the past fifteen years backs up my argument. We are able to see just how many talented singers there are in the world that will never make it to stardom. You can walk into any church in America and find at least one undiscovered talent singing in the choir. So there has to be something more than just great singing to make it big. A little charisma and a lot of luck to name two. As a successful, compelling film, ROCK THE KASBAH is low on everything.
ROCK THE KASBAH has a representation of a bigger movement by telling the story of the first female to sing on television in Afghanistan. While this is an incredible barrier to break down and a long overdue progression that should be celebrated, ROCK THE KASBAH doesn’t follow that girl’s oppression but rather the American music producer who discovers the talent. Screenwriter Mitch Glazer, who penned a previously Murray starring film in SCROOGED, and director Barry Levinson (whose best films came in the late 80’s and early 90’s like GOOD MORING VIETNAM, RAIN MAN and BUGSY), don’t seem to believe in their story either. Relying entirely on the charms of Bill Murray, ROCK THE KASBAH straddles a line of comedy and feel good drama and comes up nowhere close to either one. With inconsequential subplots and side characters involving a prostitute with a heart of gold (Kate Hudson), a hired mercenary (Bruce Willis), and a couple of ammo salesman (Scott Caan and Danny McBride), the film meanders its way to its ultimate focus of an undiscovered talent (Leem Lubany). But even then the focus is always on Richie. Bill Murray is funny even when his character is unlikable but more in a way that induces a smile rather than laughter. His talent alone can’t make up for the films shortcoming as the jokes, much like the story, are mostly easy and bland (Murray dressed as a woman).
Do I believe someone’s singing voice can move a nation? Not really, but I understand how it might be a stepping stone for female rights in an oppressive nation. However, singing on TV seems so unimportant when compared to the setting within the film, leaving it hard to get emotionally invested. The entire scope and energy left me disconnected as I kept thinking more about the terrible nature of war and life in Afghanistan, to be in constant fear of danger, rather than laughing at a bad joke or listening to a pleasant sounding female singing, both of which I can hear when I go to church on Sunday.