Bill Murray’s becalmed music manager Richie Lanz isn’t the only person stuck in limbo in Rock the Kasbah, nor are the various Western dregs populating Afghani capital Kabul in the film. We’re talking a mercenary, prostitute, and a pair of arms dealers (Bruce Willis, Kate Hudson, Danny McBride and Scott Caan respectively), on hand to provide a bit of colour in Barry Levinson’s fish out of water comedy.
As characters come and go from the screen it’s quickly apparent that their presence is only there to serve up another storyline curveball for Murray, or provide someone for him to riff off. Watching this, you’re almost embarrassed for the actors involved as they, like Russian and Western militaries before them, are worn down by the Afghanistan they’re stuck in. Meanwhile, Afghanis themselves persevere – though for the most part they’re shown as a familiar mishmash of tribal warriors and taxi drivers.
Truly a stinker of a film, with no sense of purpose and seldom teasing a chuckle, let alone a proper laugh, out of the audience, Rock the Kasbah is a long, long way from Levinson’s last comedy of note, 1997’s Wag the Dog. With Murray in the lead here, and playing a rock n roll veteran, there was ample opportunity for sharp comedic critiques – of the clashing dualities America projects into Asia and the Middle East, of frontier entrepreneurship, of anything more substantial than Murray goofing around, which is all the film delivers.
Bill Murray is an undeniable cultural treasure, bringing decades of hilarity both on and off the screen. For a film to render his presence grating is a rare thing indeed, but that’s what ends up happening here – a lot of wishing for the kasbah to hurry up and get rocked, already, so we don’t have to see any more.
‘Rock the Kasbah’ Movie Times
You could also see: Wag the Dog, Three Kings, Stripes