Remember when Barry Levinson made great films? I don’t, specifically, because they all came-out before I was born. His latest, “Rock the Kasbah” is set, as the opening title card reads, “in the recent past”. The director of such 80s classics as “Diner”, “The Natural”, “Good Morning, Vietnam” and “Rain Man” (for which he won an Oscar) has brought some of Hollywood’s most respected and likeable actors together for a comedy with a somewhat interesting premise. However, here’s the really bad news: nothing in this mess of a movie works.
Bill Murray plays the same character he’s played for basically the 100th time (though name and occupation always change): a wisecracking, smart aleck. Murray has terrific comic timing and can deliver great lines and memorable moments when working with the right script, such as in the holiday favorite “Scrooged” (1988). That film’s writer, Mitch Glazer, also wrote this screenplay, which is, well, “Bah, Humbug!”, with no cohesive flow, a misguided tone and characters who pop in and out at will.
Early in the film Murray’s down-on-his-luck talent manager, Richie Lanz, tells his daughter that he and business partner/singer Ronnie (Zooey Deschanel) are going on tour in The Middle East and will “Rock the Kasbah”. The girl informs him that Kasbahs aren’t in Afghanistan, but northern Africa. This stuns Richie and then the topic is dropped completely. You know a movie has problems when the title doesn’t even fit the project.
Lanz, who claims to have discovered Madonna and suffered a broken nose in a squabble with Stevie Nicks, gets caught-up in a bunch of wacky situations on the tour, including an arms deal with warring Afghan factions. None of this is entertaining. The only surprise comes when Ronnie leaves him, and the film for good, after about 15 minutes. Deschanel apparently knew when to cut her losses.
Murray soon meets-up with some of his ol’ acting pals: Bruce Willis plays the same schmuck mercenary soldier we’ve seen before. At first he wants to kill Lanz, but then somehow agrees to tag-team along with him. Kate Hudson plays the happy, friendly prostitute with a heart of gold, and Danny McBride and “Hawaii Five-O”‘s Scott Caan are goofy weapons dealers. But, in order to add even more to this mis-mash, the focus shifts yet again to the Middle East version of “American Idol” called “Afghan Star”, and a contestant Richie discovers who could “win it all.”
But there are only losers where “Rock the Kasbah” is concerned. It is as long and dry as the desert. There are so many attempts at laughs and they all fail miserably. Every line just sits there. Even Murray’s closing credits ad-lib bit with a store owner is embarrassingly beneath him.
On The Official LCJ Report Card, “Rock the Kasbah” gets a D-.
Running Time: 106 min.