Rock the Kasbah
Director: Barry Levinson
Writer: Mitch Glazer
Cast: Bill Murray, Bruce Willis, Kate Hudson, Zooey Deschanel, Leem Lubany, Arian Moayed, Scott Caan, Danny McBride, Fahim Fazli
Seen on: 5.4.2016
Richie Lanz (Bill Murray) is a tour manager who has seen his heyday. Now he only has a handful of unknown acts, the most promising of which is probably Ronnie (Zooey Deschanel). When Richie hears about the tours for soldiers stationed in Afghanistan and what people get paid for those tours, he’s determined to get Ronnie there, despite whatever protests she might utter. She can be convinced but once they land in Kabul, she loses her nerve and takes off with the help of mercenary Bombay Brian (Bruce Willis). As luck will have it, though, Richie stumbles upon fresh new talent in the form of Salima (Leem Lubany). He is determined to get her to the TV show Afghan Star. Only problem is: Pashtun women are not allowed to sing and perform in Afghanistan.
Well. Rock the Kasbah is certainly a film. But it’s a film without direction or much thought or much to recommend it, really.
I am not a big fan of Zooey Deschanel so when I say that she was the best part about a film – especially one that stars Bill Murray and Bruce Willis – you know that something’s up and it probably isn’t something good. But here we are.
This is a film where a borderline coercive, perpetually drunk/high, old white man from the USA comes to Afghanistan and teaches them about freedom and love and music. Unironically. His ticket to Afghanistan is a woman who has quickly fulfilled her narrative purpose and is dropped from the film rather unceremoniously. But we couldn’t do without a woman to look at, so enter Merci (Kate Hudson), the epitome of the “hooker with a heart of gold” trope. She may talk a tough game – just enough that the camera doesn’t have a problem with ogling her – but underneath it all, she’s the kindest person and has advice for everyone and is good and pure. And then our broken white hero does get to save the brown woman from her own restrictive culture. Woohoo.
And look, I’m not saying that we have to accept the Taliban’s misogynistic and generally problematic rule or anything. But we should seriously get over the stories where even the worst USAmerican can go to a middle-eastern country and Show Them How It’s Done(tm). Things aren’t quite as simple as that and it would be much more helpful if we actually listened to the people who live in those countries about what they need.
But alright. This is a comedy, not a political manifesto (except it is that, too). But even as a comedy, Rock the Kasbah simply doesn’t work that well. I mean, yes, you got Bruce Willis and Bill Murray, they will wrangle something from any material. But with a script as week as the one here, that is hard work and it shows in pretty much every single frame. So the film becomes a disappointment in pretty much all regards.