Wednesday, November 4, 2015


Rated: R

STARS: Bill Murray,  Bruce Willis,  Kate Hudson, 
Zooey Deschanel,  Leem Lubany
DIRECTOR: Barry Levinson
GENRE: Comedy-Drama

How much you like Bill Murray--meaning the vintage SNL Bill Murray--will determine whether you get a kick out of Rock The Kasbah, or sit there somewhat embarrassed for everyone involved in the endeavor. And there are a lot of big names involved. 

Rock The Kasbah follows has-been music promoter Richie Lanz (Bill Murray) on a USO tour to Afghanistan, with lounge singer Ronnie (Zooey Deschanel),  presumably his last client who still believes in him. They're counting on an in and out, take the money and run one night stand deal. But Ronnie despises the place from the get-go, whining and making bratty faces (but alluring faces nonetheless), and climbing the walls to get out of there. So it's no surprise when she skips out on Richie, heading for Dubai--leaving him high and dry-- sans money or a passport. I say no surprise in terms of the plot, but it was a shock to me as to why they pulled Zooey Deschanel--whom I like as much as Bill Murray, and if you consider appearances, a whole lot more--out of the movie early on and never brought her back!  I CONSIDER THAT TO BE THE MAJOR FLAW OF THIS FILM. And that's why I'm giving you a heads up so it can factor into your decision as to whether you want to spend your hard earned coin on a movie that makes such questionable choices. (There is Kate Hudson, though, as an affable hooker, which helps to ease the Zooey withdrawal. ) 

So now the plot veers in another direction, with Murray and Bruce Willis-- typecast as a menacing mercenary--playing off of each other. Then Richie overhears a young Pashtun girl named Salima (Leem Lubany), who sings just as sweetly as Shakira (and in fact looks like Shakira with dark hair), and the dollar signs spring up in his eyes. From this point, the movie is a poor man's Slumdog Millionaire, with Richie managing the girl through Afghan Star---the local version of American Idol.  But it will be a bumpy ride, as "uppity" women in this part of the world are frowned upon. In fact, they are often murdered. So after a sluggish start, things pick up in the second half, as momentum--and resistance--to Salima following her dream of singing stardom kicks into high gear. 

There is a lot of goofiness is this movie, thanks to Bill Murray being Bill Murray. That aside, Rock The Kasbah reminds us all too clearly of the plight of middle eastern women, who are little more than chattel to their misogynistic menfolk, and offers that little glimmer of hope that one day this part of the world may yet emerge from the dark ages. 

Grade:  C +


Ever watch a movie you know you shouldn't like but you keep watching it anyway? Rock the Kasbah was, for me, a good example of that. Not being a Bill Murray fan (except forGroundhog Day and Hyde Park On Hudson), I was prepared to suffer through this movie, eager for the end credits to start rolling. But I got hooked in spite of myself. Silly as the premise was, the message beneath that silliness was touching. I even found myself tearing up at the end, glad that at least one middle eastern woman wasn't stoned for wanting to sing. And sing she did. Beautifully.
Kudos for a musical score by Marcelo Zarvos that really 'rocked.'

I could carp about Bruce Willis playing two distinctly different characters which I still can't figure out. Or certain scenes – Bill Murray doing his happy dance around a campfire of stone-faced tribesmen--dragging on too long. But when I read at the end of the film that it was based on a real event, naming the real woman who won the singing contest, the first Afghan woman ever to do so, I forgave all the movie's imperfections and left the theater feeling hopeful.

Grade:  B