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Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Rock the Kasbah 2015 * * 1/2 Stars

Rock the KasbahDirector: Barry Levinson
Year: 2015
Rated R
Rating: * * 1/2 Stars
Cast: Bill Murray, Bruce Willis, Kate Hudson

If you haven't heard by now, the flick I'm about to review is currently bombing heavy at the box office. Case in point: Just yesterday, I happened to be the only audience member to attend a midday screening. I guess you gotta score one for the nation's critics who managed to keep consumers away in droves (everyone wants to see The Martian for the umpteenth time, who knew).

Anyway, QED International's Rock the Kasbah, feels a little unfinished. It also gives off the whiff of a few scenes being left on the cutting room floor. There are some undeveloped personas, some recognizable actors/actresses that don't quite submit (Scott Caan, Danny McBride, Taylor Kinney, and Zooey Deschanel are on and off the screen faster than a freight train), and a closing credits sequence that actually makes Bill Murray look unfunny (I didn't think that was possible). Darn it though if this fall declaration isn't mildly entertaining not to mention wholly original. As a fan of Barry Levinson, I think his direction and pacing here are more than adequate. And "Kasbah" with what looks like the most accurate of locales (Afghanistan appeared genuine to me), has been getting an unfair ribbing from anyone who's ever written a star-crossed assessment. Hey I'm not preaching this to be four star material but heck, it's better than um, Ishtar (ha ha).

Rumored to initially have the problematic Shia Labeouf as one of its costars and featuring a soundtrack full of 70's classics as well as covers of 70's classics, Rock the Kasbah is a personality-driven, fish out of water story. Tom Selleck had Mr. Baseball back in 1992, Michelle Pfeiffer had Dangerous Minds back in 95', Paul Hogan had "Crocodile" Dundee back some thirty years ago, and now lead Bill Murray gets his Shareef on in 2015. He plays Richie Lanz, a once prominent rock manager now living in a seedy, Van Nuys hotel. He used to work with legends like Stevie Nicks and John Mellencamp. Now he's almost broke, owing back child support to his young daughter who he has to talk to through a window (ouch). You see Lanz has one client left, a whiny female singer named Ronnie (played by Zooey Deschanel). Together on a tip from a drunken bar patron, they travel to Kabul, Afghanistan to partake in a famed, USO tour. As they get settled in some 14,000 miles away from home, Ronnie gets cold feet, steals Richie's passport (and wallet), and flies back leaving him all alone with no identification. Richie's solution: Wait two weeks for a new one, find a way to raise some cash (illegally), and discover a current singer to appear on Afghanistan's version of TV's American Idol (an actual show called Afghan Star). Murray quips and cops with one-liners and a capella versions of Deep Purple ("smoke on the water, a fire in the sky"). He's in every frame with do-rag in tote.

Image result for rock the kasbah movie scenesAll in all, "Kasbah's" main fallout from getting anyone to see it, might be its target audience comprised of only hardcore Bill Murray fans (I'm one of them). Then there's the fact that its title is pretty darn conventional (two other movies via the past three years, are named Rock the Kasbah. Plus, there's that 1982 ditty by The Clash you know). Finally, the point in this condensed, 100-minute exercise, is cantankerously mute. The proceedings feel a little pasted together (the notion of a delayed release shows) with Levinson letting things drift from drama to road comedy then back to drama. He does it with some real, mild strokes.

As for Murray, he plays Lanz not entirely for laughs. He doesn't push this character as much as you might think (don't let the trailer fool you). In hindsight, he's more dry and unconcerned than anything else. This is his one-man show with a sandy, South Asia backdrop to boot. Other big time movie stars help him contribute (Kate Hudson as a sultry, Kabul prostitute and Bruce Willis as a gun-toting mercenary) but come on, they're just a blimp on his radar. Bottom line: Wilmette's favorite son has this uncanny ability to carry a film good or bad. As Joe Strummer belts (in the actual song, "Rock the Kasbah"), "the king called up his jet fighters, he said you better earn your pay", well everyone involved (the filmmakers, the cast, and especially the main trouper) at least gets a slight raise. My rating: 2 and a half stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

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