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"ROCK THE KASBAH"
(2015) (Bill Murray, Bruce Willis) (R)


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QUICK TAKE:
Dramedy: A down on his luck music promoter travels to Kabul, Afghanistan with his lone client, but when she abandons him, he pins his hopes on a young local woman whose singing could put their lives in jeopardy.
PLOT:
Richie Lanz (BILL MURRAY) is a down-on-his-luck music promoter who lives in Van Nuys, California and signs untalented singers just to make money off their signing fees. His only talented singer is Ronnie (ZOOEY DESCHANEL) who also works as his assistant, and when an inebriated USO tour booker hears her sing, he convinces Richie he should accompany her to Kabul, Afghanistan to perform for the troops. She reluctantly agrees, but then flies the coop when things get hairy, taking his wallet, money and passport with her. When a hair-trigger mercenary, Brian (BRUCE WILLIS), informs Richie that he owes him money for getting Ronnie out of the country, Richie reluctantly agrees to be the front man for opportunistic American weapons suppliers, Nick (DANNY MCBRIDE) and Jake (SCOTT CAAN), and deliver ammo to a nearby village led by Tariq Khan (FAHIM FAZLI).

While there, Richie hears that man's young adult daughter, Salima (LEEM LUBANY), singing in private in a far-off cave, not wanting anyone in her village to hear her singing, especially in English, as that's forbidden for women in her culture. With the help of local taxi driver Riza (ARIAN MOAYED), Richie smuggles Salima back to Kabul.

There, he gets her a place to stay with popular American hooker Merci (KATE HUDSON), while also booking Salima on Afghanistan's singing contest TV show "Afghan Star." Her appearance doesn't sit well with her father or that man's lieutenant, Nizar (JONAS KHAN), who thinks the girl is in infidel and should be killed, much like her father who Nizar is plotting to overthrow. As voting for the top contestants on the show proceeds, Richie and the others must contend with the fallout of having Salima on the program.

OUR TAKE: 3.5 out of 10
Back in 1987, director Barry Levinson tapped into the comic genius of Robin Williams by casting him as the lead in "Good Morning, Vietnam." The result was a huge box office and critical hit (earning Williams an Oscar nomination) and is on the American Film Institute's 100 Funniest American Movies list. And while everyone remembers Williams' antics doing his highly improvised take on the real-life AFRS radio DJ Adrian Cronauer, many forget that the film had some poignant dramatic moments as the protagonist interacted with the Vietnamese locals.

Apparently hoping lightning will strike twice in a similar vein, Levinson has put another legendary funnyman in a war zone flick and the result is "Rock the Kasbah." On paper, it would seem to be a no-brainer, what with Bill Murray cast as Richie, a down-on-his-luck music promoter who agrees to have his only truly talented client (Zooey Deschanel) perform for a USO tour in Afghanistan.

While dealing with an assortment of characters there (Bruce Willis as a mercenary, Kate Hudson as an opportunistic and highly sought after lady of the night, and Scott Caan and Danny McBride as arms dealers), Richie hears the sweet singing voice of a local Pashtun girl (Leem Lubany) who dreams of being on the TV singing contest show "Afghan Star" but realizes her cultural lot in life means that will never happen. Richie has other plans, and all involved must contend with the fallout of him getting her on the show, including from those who want to keep women there repressed.

Alas, what sounds like a cinematic slam dunk simply doesn't work on film, at least as presented here. Murray is doing a variation of his oft-recurring, optimistic yet sad-sack character, and while screenwriter Mitch Glazer gives him a few funny lines here and there (although it's possible the actor improvised those), the vast majority of the flick falls flat on its attempted comedic face. As do the attempts of mixing in some profound drama, and related dangers, especially about the plight of women in that part of that world.

In fact, it's been reported that the film is loosely based on the story of Setara Hussainzada, an Afghan woman who faced death threats for appearing on that country's popular TV singing contest show, "Afghan Star." And the moments where Lubany plays a character like her are the pic's lone highlights, including when she sings her versions of some classic Cat Stevens' songs. But as in many such flicks where white American males interact with those unlike them, she's a minor character whereas Murray gets the meatier role, while it should have been vice-versa.

The rest of the cast is mostly squandered, with Willis (like much of the film) seeming uncertain of the tone he's supposed to be playing, while Deschanel wisely skips town (and thus the rest of the pic) early on. And Kate Hudson seems to have been cast simply to play out a "whatever happened to" version of Penny Lane from "Almost Famous" (if said character would have gone from being a muse-type groupie to a heart of gold hooker, which I guess isn't that big of a stretch).

They're all wasted, which will also apply to any viewer's time if they commit to watching this 100 or so minute, uneven and rarely funny misfire. Shareef don't like it and neither will you. "Rock the Kasbah" rates as a 3.5 out of 10.




Reviewed October 19, 2015 / Posted October 23, 2015


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