This star-filled drama-comedy Rock the Kasbah features Bill Murray as music manager Richie Lanz who travels from Van Nuys, California to Afghanistan. Newcomer Leem Lubany (Omar) plays an amazing singer named Salima.
Filmmakers use the 2009 documentary film Afghan Star as a base for their fictionalized story that eventually leads to Salma’s competition on the widely popular singing competition television show Afghan Star where fans submit their vote for the winners.
Murray plays yet another down-on-his-luck character with his usual charm and bravado as pacing and tone are incredibly important during the one hour and 40 minute running time. Richie uses his skills in pitch, rhythm and tone with music and people.
Richie’s proud crows about promises, closing deals, and associations with famous musicians eventually melt away culminating in a memorable exterior scene by a vehicle. Murray cuts loose in a few scenes like his “traditional” rendition of “Smoke on the Water” by Deep Purple, but still tethers the audience to the well written character Richie.
The plot, written by screenwriter Mitch Glazer (Scrooged), captures the meandering feeling Richie experiences in Kabul and other areas in Afghanistan as unpredictable events, stark situations, and dangerous encounters pepper the audience in a pleasant way. Chaos, selfishness, and random encounters morph into purpose, bravery, and loyalty.
Filmmakers purposely minimize and even eliminate potential visual distractions from the story and characters like gun violence and explosions (the sounds remain for effective impact) while increasing the authenticity with great set design, cinematography, and costumes.
Filmmakers wisely jettison scenes with long explanatory dialogue sequence and instead assimilate audiences by having them learn through the situations they see. This simple approach engages the audience and parallels Richie’s situation so audiences can easily identify with him. The cast star power increases the appeal along with the impressive cast playing Afghan native characters.
Director Barry Levinson (Rain Man) and his crew craft a very memorable film with carefully framed shots that elevate the events and characters. Audience might not normally see this film without the additional star power including Bruce Willis as Bombay Brian, a mercenary; Kate Hudson as Merci; and Zooey Deschanel stars as Ronnie.
Somehow Richie still wins everyone over as the supporting character naturally gravitate to him as audience naturally think “what will he say next?” at the film’s climax. “You’re running out of things to lose,” Bombay Brian says to Richie.
Arian Moayed plays a taxi driver named Riza who, luckily for Richie, is deep into music culture. Scott Cann and Danny McBride have small, but key roles as Jake and Nick while Fahim Fazli (Iron Man) plays Salima’s father Tariq who leads a small remote village. Tariq struggles with tradition and keeping his people safe. “I… cannot afford the peace,” he says.
Well-chosen music selections like “Running on Faith” by Eric Clapton; “Knocking on Heaven’s Door” by Bob Dylan; “Whenever, Wherever” by Shakira; and “Peace Train” by Cat Stephens enhance the scenes.
Recommended with a few reservations (**1/2 out of four stars) and rated R for language including sexual references, some drug use and brief violence. Watch the ending credits for a charming sequence where Richie negotiates with a vendor for a gift his daughter requested.
Rock the Kasbah references the song of the same name by The Clash and was filmed in Morocco and Afghanistan. Filmmakers also dedicate the film to Setara Hussainzada who Salima’s character is based upon.
Copyright © Michael Siebenaler