In writer Mitch Glazer and director Barry Levinson’s collaborative endeavor Rock the Kasbah, the core narrative carries much promise. The idea of subverting social expectations and having a woman enter the nation’s favorite televised talent show is a story of courage in the face of adversity. But we take such a long time reach this story, as a film devoid of any true focus, bearing a host of needless, inane sub-plots, and characters along the way, whether it be Danny McBride’s charlatan character Nick, or the absurdly named Bombay Brian, played by Bruce Willis.
Bill Murray takes on the lead role of Richie Lanz, a hapless, failing music manager who wants to make a quick buck, and so takes his relatively-talented singer Ronnie (Zooey Deschanel) to Afghanistan to performer for the US soldiers. However, she has a rapid change of heart and sets off with Richie’s money and passport. He finds himself in a spot of bother when reluctantly agreeing to sell ammo to a local community in exchange for a flight back home. However, it is there he hears the indelible vocal talent of Salima (Leem Lubany) and manages to persuade her compete on Afghan Star. Though it marks a genuine risk for the young woman, given her gender, and the fact she’s the daughter of the local chief – who doesn’t seem happy about the American’s involvement in this seemingly outlandish idea.
Murray excels as Richie, in a role that you feel was written to perfectly encapsulate his distinct sensibilities as a performer, as a heartless eccentric just needing to fall back in love with the world. It’s a role we’ve seen him undertake before, but usually in more accomplished circumstances, as he remains ultimately the only positive to come out of this remarkably unfunny piece of cinema. Much of that is as a result of the backwards representation of the Middle East, born out of stereotype and playing up shamelessly to it from thereon, with an overstated take on poverty and the danger of this war-zone environment, in a way that is rather insensitive and indelicate, and most importantly, somewhat irresponsible.
Of course it remains essential that we explore the protagonist’s feelings of anxiety, as he is a foreigner adapting to a whole new culture, after all – but it’s simply not handled well and is emblematic of a film that may well be named after a terrific song by The Clash, but seems intent on hitting all of the wrong notes.