Rock the Kasbah is billed as a comedy, but it’s really one huge absurdity. Now, if absurd is always funny to you, then you will enjoy the picture. A washed-up agent for musicians, Richie (Murray), stumbles on a chance to go on a USO tour in Afghanistan, and takes his young client (Deschanel) who is begging to sing her own songs. From the plane trip over, it becomes clear that she is not up to the “adventures” that seem to be in store for her, especially when they find Kabul is on lock-down and bombs are going off in the streets. Needless to say, she doesn’t last long, and Richie has a major dilemma. Will she return in time for the performance? Where are his credit cards and money?
To cope with his grief, Richie visits an ambitious American woman (Hudson), who knows an infinite number of ways to make him feel better. They become friends and eventually partners in his business.
As one of the sub-plots, Richie gets involved with some gun/ammunition dealers and winds up in a small village. In the evening when he goes for a walk, he hears singing that stops him in his tracks. The singer is so talented he must find her and contract to be her agent. (It only takes a handshake, mind you; no one needs a contract because his word is good.) That this is a Muslim country and women are prohibited from singing in public, especially (God forbid!) in English(!), is no deterrent for the supremely confident Richie.
Of course, he is able to locate Salima (Lubany) and plans are made to enter her in Afghanistan’s counterpart to our “American Idol.” She sings once, and is a hit; however, being a loyal and obedient daughter, her ambivalence emerges, and it’s not clear whether she will compete in the second round for her chance to win.
Intrigue, challenges, and conflicts abound, and it’s touch-and-go as to whether Richie will even be able to survive, much less finally score a hit.
Murray is a fine comedian, and does his “stuff” here, but I think it’s the script by Mitch Glazer that lets him down. We see/hear none of the cleverness that elicits spontaneous chuckles from the audience, as in his role in Moonrise Kingdom and other films. The same thing happens to Bruce Willis, a proven artist; his character should be hilarious, but it falls flat too.
And of course, Barry Levinson is an acclaimed producer/director/writer, but for some reason, his talent doesn’t come across here.
In addition to the script, I think that perhaps the problem with the film is the choice of Afghanistan, a Muslim country, as a setting. So much tragedy and outright horrors of all kinds have taken place there, it’s incongruent and rather insensitive to make it the setting for a comedy. I also wonder how well received the story will be by Muslims, as they are not shown in a very good light (backward and war-like). Why was Afghanistan chosen?
Bottom line: Avoid this film if you are politically sensitive and look for clever comedy.
Grade: D By Donna R. Copeland