Critic’s Corner: “Rock the Kasbah” Falls Short of Potential


Photo via Open Road Films

When traveling abroad, there are few things scarier than having your passport stolen or losing a companion. Unfortunately for Richie Lanz (Bill Murray), he finds himself in this exact situation at the beginning of the new film, “Rock the Kasbah.” Stuck in the middle of Kabul, Afghanistan, Lanz is left to find his own way for a few days until his new passport reaches him. Given this context, most would expect hilarity from the film, however, the film falls short of its potential. Instead of a first rate comedy, “Rock the Kasbah” feels like two hours of cringing broken up by brief moments of laughter.

Photo via Open Road Films
Photo via Open Road Films

Saying that the film falls short of its potential is really an understatement. Murray’s performance was hardly his best, being a washed up rock tour manager trying to get his life back together and move his business out of a motel room in Van Nuys. In an attempt to earn a quick buck, Lanz takes a deal to manage one of his stars—namely a rock star wannabe named Ronnie (Zooey Deschanel)—on a USO soldier support tour. Despite starring Bruce Willis, Danny McBride and Kate Hudson, this comedy seems to flat-line around the time the main characters arrive in Afghanistan.

Within one night, Ronnie has stolen all of Lanz’s money and hopped a C-130 back to the U.S., leaving Lanz stranded. Naturally, Lanz meets one of the only American civilians in Afghanistan, Danny McBride, in the hotel and proceeds to learn of McBride’s job selling ammunition to local villages–don’t worry, they only sell to “the good guys.” Later, Richie finds himself in one of these villages where McBride conducts his business and with his “magic ears,” he discovers a young woman whom he believes to be the next Kelly Clarkson.

After spending what feels like over an hour of screen time trying to convince people that this woman, Salima (Leem Lubany), can sing like an angel, Richie finally gets her the opportunity to perform on a popular show, Afghan Star.

The entire movie is dedicated to the real life version of Salima, Setara Hussainzada, who appeared on the third season of the real life equivalent of Afghan Star. She caused nationwide controversy with her performance, which was confusing in the context of the movie, because of all the characters in the film, she had the least amount of lines, singing not included.

Spouting long bits about fate juxtaposed with the many responsibilities of a rock tour manager, Murray’s character undergoes a series of serious identity crises on his journey through Afghanistan.

With all of its flaws the film manages to shine in one aspect: with the character development of Lanz. With literally 10 minutes left in the film, Lanz admits to some major self-inflation and bending of the truth. Unfortunately, due to the lack of any other character development this touching moment fell flat thanks to the confused mercenary played by Bruce Willis.

With a cast that couldn’t exist without Murray’s character driving the story, the movie felt like an odd adaptation of “The Five People You Meet In Heaven” with a lot of irreverent jokes and that left a lot of questions unanswered when it concluded. 3 out of 5 stars.

Jarrod may be reached at [email protected]