It’s difficult to think of another word better suited to describe Rock the Kasbah than mediocre. It’s far from good, obviously, but it’s also so bland and boring and whatever that it’s hard to get upset. It’s the kind of film that’s even impossible to hate-watch, mostly because at some point your eyes begin to glaze over and you just kind of let the movie carry you along wherever it sees fit. More than once I found myself thinking of something along the lines of, “Is this really happening? Did someone actually write this?” but instead of leaving the theater or stewing in my seat, I just continued to take a nap with my eyes open. Yes, it’s true, Bill Murray’s erratic charm cannot save this film. In fact, he’s part of the problem.
That’s not to say that Bill Murray is the worst part of the movie because that would be ridiculous. There are plenty of other people to blame for Rock the Kasbah. I’m sure if given the time, I could draw up an entire list organized by percentage of fault, but I’m also not going to be pretend as if Murray is a sweet baby unicorn who did everything he could to make this movie good. He didn’t. Or, if he did really do his best, it doesn’t matter because he still did a shitty job.
Murray plays Richie Lanz, a washed up music promoter who spends his days scamming talentless people with dreams of becoming rock stars. After a chance meeting with a USO tour booker, Lanz and his one true talent Ronnie (Zooey Deschanel) find themselves in Kabul. Of course, Ronnie flees for Dubai because something has to actually happen in this goddamned movie, and Lanz is stuck without a passport, money, or anyway of getting back to the US. After getting over the idea Kabul is going to have to be his temporary home, Lanz finds himself entangled in an arms deal gone wrong, in love with a sex worker (kind of?), and finally promoting someone with true musical talent.
It’s all so boring. Without a strong story, or an interesting set of characters, Murray’s swagger is directionless and irritating. In Aloha (which is probably a worse film, whatever), Murray’s cool attitude was a fresh breath from all of the awkwardness that was happening between the main love quadrangle. In Rock the Kasbah, it’s nothing but a source of annoyance. Again, I’m not saying this because all of the movies problems lie with him, I’m saying it because this movie is so dull that not only does Bill Murray not save it, but he actively contributes to it. That’s saying something.
For a movie that is clearly supposed to be a comedy, I hardly remember laughing. In fact, the funniest part of the movie for me was noticing how literal the cinematography is. There’s a shot of Murray separated from a human he cares about by a fence. There’s a shot of Murray separated from his daughter by a window. There are a million shots of Murray staring out into the empty desert because don’t you get it??? HE’S A LONE WOLF, GUYS. Maybe if the movie was actually funny, its choice of location wouldn’t feel so uncomfortable and racist. More often than not, it feels like the jokes are focused on how Afghanistan is such a wild/wacky place filled with dangerous, sexist, and dumb people. Which is I guess why Murray’s Lanz has to single-handedly help a poor, heart-of-gold Pashtun girl (Leem Lubany) show off her true talent on “Afghan Star”, an “American Idol” clone that has never featured a woman singer.
I can maybe see the thought behind Rock the Kasbah. Wouldn’t it be cool to make a movie inspired by the story of Setara Hussainzada, the first woman to appear on “Afghan Star” despite receiving death threats? Yes. It would be cool. Too bad this isn’t that movie. Instead what we got was a seriously boring film about an old white guy who goes to Afghanistan in order to prove he’s worth something by telling other people how to live their lives.