Rock the Kasbah is the story of Richie Lanz, a rock manager with a golden ear and a taste for talent, who has seen better times. When he takes his last remaining client on a USO tour of Afghanistan, she gets cold feet and leaves him penniless and without his passport in Kabul. While trying to find his way home, Richie befriends a band of misfits and discovers a young girl with an extraordinary voice. Against all odds, Richie will take his last shot at creating an unlikely superstar.
Even if you discount the borderline offensiveness to Muslims in Director Barry Levinson's 'Rock the Kasbah', it's still not a very good movie. All this despite the fact that it stars Bill Murray, whose reputation for throwing the script out the door and ad-libbing his way through many a film can't even save this lackluster affair. At best, there's only a few laughs to be found in this otherwise dull comedy.
On the page, this must have seemed like a sure-fire hit, as Murray plays washed-up former music manager Richie Lanz, who must now make ends meet by taking money from wannabe singers who don't have a drop of talent. Richie does have one promising prospect in a singer named Ronnie (Zooey Deschanel) and gets the chance to make a few dollars when he's offered the chance to use her for the opening act of a USO performance for the troops in Afghanistan.
So it's off to the war front for Richie and Ronnie, but the two aren't there for a full day before Ronnie's had enough of her surroundings and disappears...and I mean quite literally. Not only does Zooey's character never again appear in the movie, but after a few scenes, Murray's character doesn't seem to care about her anymore, either (the movie does explain through a mercenary character played by Bruce Willis that he's procured her return to the States). Deschanel's appearance and disappearance in the movie mirrors that of other actors as well, as the already-mentioned Bruce Willis, along with actors such as Kate Hudson (playing a hooker who Richie becomes involved with) and Danny McBride and Scott Caan (playing a pair of war profiteers) also come and go with no rhyme or reason – although, unlike Zooey, they pop up again every so often.
The plot eventually has Richie being invited to the home of a Muslim warlord, where he hears a young woman (played by Leem Lubany – who honestly deserves to be in a better film...she's one of the few bright spots here) privately singing. She has a dream of performing on 'Afghan Star' (Afghanistan's version of 'American Idol'), but it's seen as a huge cultural and religious faux pas. Indeed, this part of the movie is based on the real-life story of 'Afghan Star's first female singer, who received death threats for her performance on that show.
Yet 'Rock the Kasbah' can't seem to decide if it wants to be a cynical comedy or a soft and mushy one, so it gives viewers a little bit of both and fails on both ends. We've seen Murray play down on his luck and overly paranoid before and in much better movies. He's hit or miss throughout here, but his co-stars are even worse off. Hudson's hooker with a heart of gold is too reminiscent of the character she played much better in Almost Famous, Bruce Willis is asked to do little more than look tough and brood, and the comedic abilities of both Danny McBride and Scott Caan are wasted here.
I suppose die-hard Bill Murray fans may find something to enjoy in 'Rock the Kasbah'...or at least be able to struggle through the bad parts for the few moments when Murray does deliver something worthwhile...but for most out there, this is a movie you won't regret skipping. And for the record, no, The Clash's great tune upon which this movie is named (with a "K" replacing the "C") is never used once.
The Blu-Ray: Vital Disc Stats
'Rock the Kasbah' debuts on home video in this Blu-ray/DVD/Digital HD combo pack. The 50GB Blu-ray and dual-layer DVD come housed inside a standard Elite keepcase, which also includes an insert containing a code for a digital copy of the movie (iTunes or UltraViolet). A slightly embossed slipcover that matches the artwork of the keepcase's slick slides overtop. Both the Blu-ray and the DVD are front-loaded with 'mini-trailers' (about 30 seconds each) for Trumbo, 'Sisters' (this one is a full-length trailer), Big Stone Gap, Crimson Peak, Spotlight, and The Danish Girl. The main menu features the same image used on the box cover, with menu selections running down the left side of the screen. The Blu-ray in this release is region-free.
'Rock the Kasbah' was shot digitally on Arri Alexa XT Plus cameras and is presented on Blu-ray in the 2.40:1 aspect ratio. The first thing viewers will notice about the video is that it has ever so slightly been drained of color, probably to give the movie's Afghanistan locales (the filmmakers actually shot in Morocco) a mostly desolate and foreign appearance to them. Details, however, are quite good throughout, although I thought the black levels were a little on the questionable side, making some of the darker and/or nighttime scenes a little harder to distinguish. Facial features are well-rendered, giving audiences a chance to see every crack and crevice in Murray's aging face. There is some minor aliasing, particularly during a scene where Murray and co-star Beejan Land are walking by the outside of a mosque with an intricate design on the walls and pillars. This might not be the most powerful transfer in terms of 'pop' and 'wow', but it's still a good job and I'm guessing a proper reflection of the original theatrical exhibition.
The only audio option on this release is an English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track. Surprisingly, most of the music in 'Rock the Kasbah' is part of the film's soundtrack rather than on-screen performances, although we do get a few of those as well. Dialogue is almost exclusively up-front, while the rears are used to both enhance the soundtrack and for the occasional ambient noises. They're also used for some directionality, most noticeable in some gunplay that occurs in the movie. There's even a bit of LFE use during a few explosions that occur in the course of the story. The track appears to be free of any glitches and also is – for the most part – nicely mixed with the spoken word, although there were a couple of scenes where I thought the dialogue was a little too low compared with the rest of the mix. Still, this is a well-rendered track with no major issues.
Shannon don't like it! 'Rock the Kasbah', 'Rock the Kasbah'! Seriously though, I got the feeling watching this movie that the filmmakers thought just having Bill Murray doing what Bill Murray does best would be enough...but it sure isn't. Every scene plays out like a comedy skit with Murray at the helm, and there are far too many misses than hits in this disappointing effort. I'm afraid this one is for Bill Murray aficionados only, and even most of them will feel let down.