Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway
Rock the Kasbah
In what could have been a glib and smart re-creation of a Bob Hope road movie, director Barry Levinson has a worthy idea in "Rock the Kasbah" about a debauched music producer who wants to bridge the cultural gap between Afghanistan and America. Sadly, Levinson loses his footing, and the story as a whole is a figment rather than a solid film throughout.
Bill Murray as producer Richie Lanz starts out unsteady, glazed and mumbling with a tie dye bandana and a wobbly gait. At times he seems to mimic his quirky and far more vivid performance in "Where the Buffalo Roam."
Murray verbally drifts with long pauses. Even in playing a spaced out, fed up character, his timing is off and plays half heartedly.
Still, Bill Murray is Bill Murray and even at a quarter of his power, he remains charismatic. Lanz, we can tell even before the opening credits, is at rock bottom. He has lost custody of his daughter and has no prospects. He goes to a karoake bar with his friend Ronnie (Zooey Deschanel). A drunk man gives him an idea to take Ronnie on the road to entertain the troops in Kabul.
He lands with Ronnie in Kabul and she leaves without him knowing, taking his passport and money. Lanz is beside himself. At a bar, he meets a mercenary (Bruce Willis) and two black market weapons men (Scott Caan and Danny McBride). McBride hollers and yells in a crass manner, acting a stereotype of an Ugly American while Caan plays like a teenager. The two actors are barely on screen for five minutes.
At a club, he meets the fetching escort Merci (Kate Hudson.) After a few mildly funny one liners in the tradition of a teen sex comedy. Lanz sweats it out in silence and is seen in drag which plays too silly to be funny.
During a night walk, he hears the surreal sound of a melodious voice. It is the veiled Salima (Leem Lubany) singing a pop song. She scatters like a bird. Surely he can represent her. This could be his big break.
The main problem with the film is its mixture in tone. Is it a road movie? A weird farce? Or a poignant comedy drama? The story floats in and out in aspect and color like a mirage, uncertain as to its path. Murray himself seems half in this masque. During the first hour, he is listless and passive. Only when he meets the enchanting Salima, does his role get some voltage.
For the most part too, the roles are thinly drawn with stereotypes: the terse soldier, the angry Arab, the obnoxious American. The start of the film spends too much time with these sketchy appearances and this dilutes whatever edge the film might have had.
Leem Lubany as Salima makes a striking role especially in her singing of "Peace Train" but any pathos is so bogged down by the one dimensional role of her harsh father (Fahim Fazli) that it seems more of a comedy than something meaningful especially when the actor knocks down an ice cream cone with burning eyes.
"Rock the Kasbah" is a missed opportunity. There are a couple good moments to be found. Notably in the dialogue when Lanz says that Afghanistan is a shell game of sorts between the Taliban and CIA. The cinematography by Sean Bobbit (12 Years A Slave) is also terrific, depicting Afghanistan as a mountainous cloak of purple and gold illuminated by the glow of TV sets. Lastly there is a fine score, peppered by Yusef Islam (Cat Stevens).
It is a pity that the shaky tone and silly shenanigans cast a shadow over all, needlessly currying what would make an already spicy dish. Most of the goings-on might have you saying in pashto, "poh nə shwum" وه نه شوم or more likely in English, "I don't understand."
The iconic Bill hasn't traveled far enough East in this all too dirivative outing from Remembrance of Murrays Past.
Write Ian at firstname.lastname@example.org