This is not a good Bill Murray film. That’s fine, it happens, can’t win ’em all I guess, but man this was so unfunny, so uncomfortable and so stupid on so many levels. Yet I can’t help but feel the film was made with entirely good intentions, this is the kind of film where I was more interested in why the people behind it made it.
To be fair, this film must have been a hard sell. Bill Murray plays a washed out rock ‘n’ roll manager getting gigs for cover artists in bars. He gets an offer to go to Afghanistan and bring his secretary along to perform covers for the USO show happening there. When they get there Murray’s secretary ditches him, leaving him broke and without a passport to make it home. Things happen with no correlation to each other – something about arms trading and warlords – when Bill Murray discovers an afghan woman singer and convinces the Afghan’s version of X-Factor to televise her performance, the first appearance of a woman singer on the show, causing a bunch of rifts in social taboos.
In a weird way there is something to admire about the film, obviously the fact that it got made and with stars like Bill Murray and Bruce Willis starring in it is shocking really, even though all the American leads play cliché roles you guess from a mile away. They at least made the effort to shoot on location, not in Afghanistan mind but in Morocco, which is better than dressing up a studio back lot. There’s a wide net of actors from the middle east with Leem Lubany being the stand out as the singer, so at least they put the effort into casting. The film itself was inspired by and dedicated to Setara Hussainzada, a woman singer appearing on Afghan Star – the film even uses the same name for the singing competition show.
Rock the Kasbah does not delicately handle the subject matter, I’m not sure if it could be considered offensive but it is so simplistic in its portrayal. The moment they land on Afghanistan bombs go off, it’s ok though, some goats got blown up that’s all (presumably I was supposed to laugh). The camera is always shaking around handheld as if we’re supposed to be in Afghanistan, all in the service of juvenile jokes about prostitution, and western drug dealers driving around in a low rider along the streets of Kabul, how exactly is the cinematography supposed to aid the comedy? It doesn’t, it makes me feel like the cinematographer was shooting a different movie entirely.
There are so many inappropriate uses of pop music and even the score just doesn’t fit, trying to mix middle-eastern instrumentation with some computerized beats, it’s all so tonally deaf to what we are seeing. I couldn’t care less to ruin the ending of this movie, just like how every American comedy has to be aspirational in some way, they end the movie with Lubany’s character finishing the finals in the song contest, and they present it like Bill Murray just brought peace to Afghanistan, with people all over Kabul going crazy for her when just a moment ago they looked at her with contempt. The semiotic messaging in this film is so demeaning and trite when you look at the situation in the middle east going on right now. How were the filmmakers so misguided?
I think I laughed two times throughout the film, that should have been enough to say that this is a crap comedy. In some ways the film wanted to make an artful film with a message like other Bill Murray leading films Broken Flowers or Lost in Translation. But it’s Bill Murray, so it has to be a sort of bumbling comedy, oh and also we need to make some social commentary, or something? At least it wasn’t two hours long like every American comedy, there’s that.
Dir: Barry Levinson
Scr: Mitch Glazer
Cast: Bill Murray, Bruce Willis, Kate Hudson, Zooey Deschanel, Leem Lubany, Arian Moayed, Scott Caan, Danny McBride,
Prd: Steve Bing, Bill Block, Mitch Glazer, Jacob Pechenik, Ethan Smith
DOP: Sean Bobbitt
Music: Marcelo Zarvos
Run Time: 106 mins
Rock the Kasbah is available on Digital and DVD now.