Barry Levinson has always been a gifted filmmaker. The man has brought us terrific films like “The Natural”, “Good Morning, Vietnam”, and “Rain Man”. Sure, he has had his fare share of stinkers but 2001’s “Bandits” is the last good thing he directed. Unfortunately the Bill Murray led “Rock the Kasbah” is just another dud for the once acclaimed director.
Inspired by a true story, “Rock the Kasbah” centers on down-on-his-luck music manager Richie Lanz (Murray), who runs his talent agency out of a small Van Nuys apartment. When Richie books his assistant/artist (Zooey Deschanel) on a music tour in Afghanistan, she winds up taking his money, passport and heads back to America. With bombs going off around them, can he actually blame her?
With no money or Identification, Richie is stranded in Kabul. Things look up when a couple of weapon hustlers (Scott Caan and Danny McBride) give Richie thirty thousand dollars to deliver some ammunition to a village in the desert. While there, Richie discovers the beautiful voice of Salima (Leem Lubany). Although the women are not allowed to sing on television, he winds up taking her to compete on a local “American Idol” type show. Of course this becomes a huge controversy and her father who also happens to be the head of the village is ashamed.
“Rock the Kasbah” has quite a bit in common with Levinson’s 1987 film “Good Morning, Vietnam”. They are both comedic dramas set in the midst of a dangerous war. The problem is that Murray is not able to deliver the laughs that Williams did which helped distract the audience from the dangers around them. Another issue is that we never feel that Richie is in any great danger even though he puts himself in some really serious spots.
I had hopes for “Rock the Kasbah”, with a great supporting cast that also includes Kate Hudson and Bruce Willis. Just none of the elements work here. The writing by Mitch Glazer, who wrote one of Murray’s best films, “Scrooged” isn’t terrible, but lacks any real punch. I still believe Levinson can deliver a good film, it just might take a little longer.
By: Marc Ferman