Kasbah fails to rock
It’s never a good sign when, while watching a movie, your mind becomes preoccupied with questions like “I wonder at what point in the production process this went wrong?” and “Didn’t they realize they were making a colossal turd?” or “Do I need to pick up eggs or do I have enough for breakfast tomorrow?” These and many other queries rattle around inside my noggin while watching Barry Levinson’s Rock the Kasbah, as misguided a movie to play the multiplexes in many a moon. Disjointed, rambling and without any sense of direction, the fate of this production lies firmly on the shoulders of its star, Bill Murray, who here seems to muster barely enough strength to stay awake, let alone save a feature film.
To say that music producer Richie Lanz (Murray) has seen better days is an understatement. Having rubbed shoulders with the great pop stars of the ‘80’s and 90’s, he’s been reduced to operating out of a fleabag hotel in Van Nuys, California; yes, it might be just ten miles from the iconic Capital Records building in Hollywood, but it might as well be a world away when you consider how long Lanz has been out of the game. However, the desperate singers who approach him are dazzled by his charm, none more so than Ronnie (Zooey Deschanel) who so desperately wants to be a star that she agrees to go to Kabul, Afghanistan, to entertain U.S. troops when this is the only gig Lanz can get her.
So far, so good, but once we land in the war zone – and Ronnie decides to hightail it back to the states with Lanz’s money and passport in her pocket – the film jumps the tracks. In due time, the promoter crosses paths with small-time ammunition dealers (Scott Caan, Danny McBride) who get him to make an ill-advised delivery of thousands of bullets; a mercenary with delusions of grandeur (Bruce Willis) who wants to writ a memoir of his experiences; a forward-thinking hooker (Kate Hudson) who he ends up taking as a partner; and a young Pushtun woman (Leem Lubany) with the voice of an angel who he decides will be his next client, Afghan customs be damned.
That only one person, screenwriter Brian Grazer (Scrooged), penned the script is one of the most startling aspects of the film. The story is so disjointed and heads in so many different directions that I suspected there were numerous sets of fingerprints all over it. Equally surprising is that veteran director Barry Levinson (The Natural, Rain Man) is at the wheel of this listing ship. The pacing is lax and the tone inconsistent. Is this supposed to be a political satire? A zany comedy? A pointed commentary on the plight of oppressed Afghan women? Levinson flirts with all of these notions at one time or another but can never settle on one. As a result, Kasbah never gains any traction, spinning its wheels without gaining any traction or direction.
As for Murray, he sleepwalks through the film far more than he usually does. While many praise the actor’s subtlety, it seems to me that he turns in the same performance (the wry, ironic, superior guy who holds others in disdain) again and again with only slight variations. The only difference here is that he seems to know he’s in a turkey, that there’s no salvaging it and it simply isn’t worth his time or effort. At the very least, he’s right about that.
Contact Chuck Koplinski at firstname.lastname@example.org.