'Rock the Kasbah' review: Bill Murray comedy hits all the wrong notes
The Bill Murray comedy "Rock the Kasbah" (opening in theaters nationwide Oct. 23) is a meager, disappointing film on many fronts - from its half-formed characters to jagged editing - but this is just an incredibly unfocused story built around a less-than-likable hero.
In short: Has-been rock manager Richie Lanz (Murray) finds himself stuck in Kabul when he discovers a young traditional Afghan girl with a beautiful voice. He helps her compete in the Afghanistan version of "American Idol." (Watch the trailer)
"Kasbah" lacks the dramatic teeth to be considered even a light drama -- and with just one or two genuinely funny moments, it's pretty unfair to call this a "comedy." This is just 100 or so minutes of the bumbling misadventures of a fast-talking loser as he wanders around Kabul for a few weeks.
What starts out as a 'down-on-his luck swindler' story slowly and patiently just sort of becomes a 'fast-talking loser gets stuck in Afghanistan' story. How will Richie finally make it big? Who cares - because now he's stuck in Afghanistan! How will he get out of Kabul without money or a passport? Who cares - because now he's randomly running errands for a couple of non-professional arm dealers. How will Richie survive embattled Afghanistan now that he's neck-deep in the arms trade between Afghan warlords? Who cares - because now Richie has discovered a beautiful voice in the remote mountains of Afghanistan. Eventually - and well into the running time - a series of tortured plot points finally plants Richie in just the right place where he can discover an Afghan girl with a beautiful voice. "Rock the Kasbah" is constantly distracted by whatever shiny new problem arises for Richie -- without resolving any of his previous problems.
This unfocused mess meanders aimlessly, randomly picking up unearned plot points -- and then abandoning them just as quickly. Do not get attached to or expect much from any of the supporting cast - which includes Zooey Deschanel, Danny McBride, Scott Caan and Kate Hudson. All of them random pop into the story -- and just as quickly pop out of the story. They are simply not characters - they are treated as plot devices that have lines of dialogue. Deschanel's character exists only to give Richie a reason to go to Kabul, McBride and Caan are only there to give Richie a reason to meet the Afghan girl and Hudson's character is just there to be the "hooker with a heart of gold" who delivers some lame motivational bits of dialogue.
About the only compliment that can be paid to "Kasbah" is the smart casting of Bill Murray, who reverts to a character akin to the laid-back/sarcastic Peter Venkman of "Ghostbusters." But his character is never charming enough to overcome his deeply selfish ways - it's easier to not care about Richie or his plight than to root for him at all.
Final verdict: This film was edited with a chainsaw - which only exacerbates an already flawed movie that lacks a consistent tone or even a coherent storyline. By constantly changing the character stakes, the audience never finds solid footing -- which prevents them from truly caring about the protagonists, any of the plot turns or even the movie's forced/heavy-handed social commentary on the Afghan culture.
"Rock the Kasbah" opens in theaters nationwide Oct. 23. This alleged comedy is rated R for language including sexual references, some drug use and brief violence.