Rock the Kasbah (Open Road Films, R)

Rock the_Kasbah_75It is, indeed, pretty terrible.





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One would think that, between being an excellent, much-loved, and funny actor, and one who doesn’t appear in all that many movies and who is legendarily difficult to get a hold of if you want to cast him in a film, that Bill Murray would appear in more consistently good movies. He’s one of those actors who I’ll happily watch in anything, no matter what it is, but when was his last good movie? It certainly wasn’t his other 2015 release, Aloha, nor last year’s St. Vincent. He’s always great when he appears in a Wes Anderson movie or a Jim Jarmusch movie, and of course he was fantastic in Sofia Coppola’s Lost in Translation. Apart from those, what was the last good movie he was in? 2000’s sadly-overlooked, Michael Almereyda’s Hamlet (in which he played Polonius)? 1996’s Kingpin? 1993’s Groundhog Day?

Rock the Kasbah certainly doesn’t break this alarming trend; it’s just another bad movie that Murray somehow gets out of unscathed. It’s based (though surely very loosely) on a true story of a rock manager who discovers a Pashtun girl in a cave in Afghanistan (literally in a cave) and gets her to perform on Afghan Star, the country’s equivalent to American Idol. If you’re like me, you stop at Bill Murray—“Shit, Bill Murray’s in this thing? I’m in!” But read that plot description again, and tell me that it doesn’t sound terrible.

And it is, indeed, pretty terrible. They take some stab at cultural sensitivity in their portrayal of most Americans as being boorish and greedy, and many Afghanis are portrayed as noble and screwed, but in the end this is again another story about a white man showing a non-white non-man how to best live their life. And apparently the best way for them to live their life is to contribute content to terrible TV programs.

Did I mention that Pashtun girls aren’t allowed to sing, and Murray’s character, Richie Lanz, not only puts his cave find Salima (Leem Lubany) up to singing, but puts her up to singing on TV? While it’s fair to question why exactly Pashtun girls aren’t allowed to sing (which detail is never really addressed), how far is this from an American comedy where Kevin James goes to Israel and teaches people how delicious bacon is?

Thankfully, it isn’t just Murray who’s likable, but most of the cast: we get Zooey Deschanel, Danny McBride, and Bruce Willis in small roles, all of whom are pretty good (though you have to feel sorry for Deschanel as she warbles that most repulsive of popular karaoke songs, “Bitch”), as is most of the Afghani cast. But they aren’t going to be able to save you from the stupidity of this endeavor, nor its ironically terrible soundtrack—at first I thought it was a period piece set about ten years ago, thanks to song choices like “Bawitdaba,” but at some point it occurred to me that they reference Devi Lovato and Solange Knowles (who I would have preferred on the soundtrack over Kid Rock and Meredith Brooks covers, for what that’s worth), so apparently it’s set more or less right now. Even Salima’s supposedly once-in-a-lifetime voice is little more than grating, which is a fair description of the film overall. | Pete Timmermann

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