Review: Rock The Kasbah

Last Updated on August 2, 2021


PLOT: A washed-up rock promoter (Bill Murray) tries to cash-in on the war in the middle-east by booking a singer he manages (Zooey Deschanel) on a dangerous tour through Afghanistan. When she bails on him – stealing his passport and cash in the process – he finds himself stranded but his desperate scenario proves to be a source of inspiration when an arms deal gone awry exposes him to a young Pashtun singer with a killer voice.

REVIEW: ROCK THE KASBAH is a decent if ultimately frustrating film. All of the elements are there, with Bill Murray delivering an inspired performance in a tailor-made lead part, scripted by his long-time friend and collaborator Mitch Glazer. Glazer’s premise is cracker-jack, and with better execution this could have really been something. However, director Barry Levinson’s patchy approach gives the film an uneven, often dull vibe that contradicts the life and death scenario Murray’s character finds himself swept up into. With more energy behind the camera this could have been as good as Levinson’s own GOOD MORNING, VIETNAM – but the result is watchable but not terribly memorable.

Oh well, at least Murray gets off some zingers. By this point, Glazer’s an expert in capturing Murray’s voice and on-paper this must have seemed like it couldn’t miss. As it is, Murray gives the movie his all and it’s fun to see him in as the sole protagonist once again (arguably for the first time since BROKEN FLOWERS – with having shared those duties on ST. VINCENT with his young co-star). Considering his history, Murray’s pretty easy to accept as a life-long rocker and roller, and the part of Richie Lanz could only ever have been played by him. Murray’s got that star quality where – no matter what line he crosses – as an audience we’ll still be with him because he’s Bill Murray. With another actor, Lanz would have simply been a jerk, but Murray makes him so palatable tacked-on scenes, such as a bit where he dotes on his young daughter, seem forced on us in order to make sure we find him likable. We don’t need to be reassured he’s actually a nice guy – we’re on Murray’s side either way.

It’s Levinson’s tendency to get mawkish that takes away so much of ROCK THE KASBAH’s edge, with the first half, featuring a dynamic Murray mixing it up with rebels, mercenaries (including a surprisingly good Bruce Willis), two frattish arms dealers (the excellent Danny McBride and Scott Caan) and an American prostitute (Kate Hudson), being far superior to the second half. It gives up an intriguing look at the kind of folks who gravitate towards a war zone for their own enrichment, and this part of the film is highly intriguing.

Once Murray meets Leem Lubany’s Salima, a young Pashtun girl who dreams of stardom on Afghan Idol, the movie becomes a far more conventional underdog tale. Apparently, Afghan Idol is a real show and a young Pashtun girl really did go on a few years ago, but the way it’s done is so Hollywood that it all feels phony. Once Salima’s machine gun toting Tribal elder father gets turned into a cuddly care-bear style figure and when Willis and Murray team-up to help save her village from being slaughtered it turns into a total Hollywood fantasy where the outcome is never in question. That’s a shame because for the first half, the danger of Murray’s predicament and the wild and crazy situations he found himself in made me think ROCK THE KASBAH was going to be one of his best vehicles in a long time.

While ultimately not-great, ROCK THE KASBAH is obviously worth-watching for Murray alone. He has some great bits of business, including some inspired improv, like where he calls a bearded mercenary “Kenny Loggins” and asks him if he’s still touring. Whatever its faults, ROCK THE KASBAH is a true Bill Murray vehicle, and his voice comes through strongly throughout. On those merits alone ROCK THE KASBAH can’t be ignored. It’s just frustrating that it winds up only being a decent movie rather than the really good one it could have been.

Rock The Kasbah



Viewer Ratings (0 reviews)

Add your rating


About the Author

Chris Bumbray began his career with JoBlo as the resident film critic (and James Bond expert) way back in 2007, and he has stuck around ever since, being named editor-in-chief in 2021. A voting member of the CCA and a Rotten Tomatoes-approved critic, you can also catch Chris discussing pop culture regularly on CTV News Channel.