Screened Out – Rock the Kasbah

By : Stephen Miller
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Bill Murray, Zooey Deschanel, Bruce Willis, Kate Hudson, Leem Lubany, Scott Caan, Danny McBride

There are several charming bits in the comedy Rock the Kasbah. They pass like mere mirages, because there are no engrossing characters or riveting plot at the center. This is how lack of focus and pacing can suck a solid concept dry.

The combination should’ve been refreshing. Beloved Bill Murray leads a crew of solid comic actors in an intriguing setting – mostly in war-torn Afghanistan. The movie also touts a rock-n-roll sensibility, a rebellion that never comes to fruition.

Even with her cliché part, Kate Hudson shows some life.

Even with her cliché part, Kate Hudson shows some life.

Murray is Richie Lanz, a scuzzy down-and-out manager whose only client with potential is Deschanel. When they book a USO tour, they hop a plane to ravaged, violent Afghanistan. Deschanel panics, takes drugs, rips off her manager, and flees, leaving Murray abandoned with no passport or wallet.

Unfortunately, this should’ve happened in the first ten minutes of the film, but it takes almost thirty to get here.

Right, so we have Murray is a foreign country, feeling disconnected. Well, it worked for Lost in Translation; why not here? (Though, this land is crueler, deadlier.)

Murray’s character wanders through the desert, trying to get home again, or locate talent, or something. He meets crooked arms dealers (Caan, McBride), a slightly disturbed mercenary (Willis), and a hooker with a heart of gold (Hudson).

He also befriends some Afghani natives, including a female singer (Lubany) from a ravaged village. She’s good enough to go on Afghan Star, their version of American Idol. Ah, here is possibly the talent manager’s redemption…except that Lanz doesn’t speak Farsi, and women are forbidden to sing, especially on television. Everything seems to conspire to lead Lanz and his newfound talent to death.

Kasbah also tells a bit about Lubany’s village being forcibly overtaken after the arms dealers sold them faulty ammunition. It seems some locals wants the village to enter the opium trade. This is just one more problem introduced after we realize the film has too many tangents and little heart.

Director Barry Levinson (here with Leem Lubany) hasn't had a solid success in years.

Director Barry Levinson (here with Leem Lubany) hasn’t had a solid success in years.

That lackadaisical, aimless pace would be fine if the personalities were a little bit more compelling. Murray comes the closest, but his character’s sheer stupidity and laziness stop him. Willis and Hudson are playing clichés; Hudson at least gives her part a little pizazz.

Except for the occasional delightful music number, much of Kasbah just soldiers on without any spark. Moments that should be tense seem tamped down; whole sections of the film are uneven, erratic, frivolous, and haphazard. Where is the true rock bravado and human interest this movie cries for?

It seems director Barry Levinson will never live up to Rain Man or Wag the Dog. Writer Mitch Glazer won’t get better than his Great Expectations or Scrooged. Despite a few funny bits and the occassional magical musical moments, lifeless editing further hinders the random script.

Ratings Key

See it now! Buy the DVD! Quote lines at parties!

Definitely worth the price of admission

It’s useful as a distraction

Maybe if someone else pays and you need a nap

Slightly worse than eternal damnation

I ended up playing “What If” as I watched this. What if they’d started the film later so they could concentrate on the village or the singer? What if this movie were more of a musical powerhouse? What if there was a more vibrant, driven plot? What if Murray’s character had clearer goals? What if the film knew what it wanted to show us? Kasbah hints at raucous rock rebellion – the sort of rebellion the villagers should also show. It only delivers a few stellar moments amidst a desert of drifting dullness.

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