The shareef won’t like it, but “Rock the Kasbah” is vintage Bill Murray.
“They’re blowing-up goats? Must be some sort of festival.” Such is life during wartime for washed-up rock manager Richie Lanz (Murray) who is in Kabul with Zooey Deschanel to entertain the troops.
Director Barry Levinson (“Rain Man”) leverages music to ground funnyman Lanz — a stranger in a very strange land that we arguably have no business in — as he did in his iconic “Good Morning, Vietnam,” where Robin Williams was real-life DJ Adrian Cronauer.
Lanz is stranded after Deschanel ditches him, then finds himself wandering in a remote province where he overhears a teen secretly singing in a cave. Unfortunately, the calendar in the region is stuck in the 1200s. “Women don’t sing,” he is warned. “Well, the chick in the red burka didn’t get the memo,” he snaps back, reminiscent of Nick Summers. (That is, if his rendition of “Smoke on the Water” didn’t already take you back to the Breezy Point Lodge.)
With a new-found purpose, he convinces his discovery, Salima (Leem Lubany), to sing on the popular television show “Afghan Star,” which is their version of “American Idol” but without the likes of a Carrie Underwood, Kelly Clarkson, Kellie Pickler or Jennifer Hudson because, y’know, the prevailing opinion is that the entire gender should be seen and not heard; in fact, Lanz might add, apparently not even seen.
Salima is amazing, naturally. Her best are takes on classics from Yusuf Islam, the artist formerly known as Cat Stevens — and even if her “Peace Train” does ride on virtually the same arrangement as the Natalie Merchant/10,000 Maniacs’ 1987 cover, with context, Salima’s is definitely “sounding louder.”
Cultures don’t evolve quickly and the pair here have a long road ahead of them, but it’s a start.
Though loosely-based on real ‘Afghan Star’ Setara Hoseinzadeh, this one is tailored to Murray (writer Mitch Glazer worked with the comic on “Scrooged” and “Lost in Translation”) so the dialog is archetypical, which is awesome news for fans. For instance, when he sells Deschanel on the region early on with, “Think Aspen, but, y’know, during wartime,” I heard Winger tell Ziskey, “It’s Czechoslovakia. It’s like going into Wisconsin.”
Classic Bill Murray.
Kate Hudson, Scott Caan, and Bruce Willis co-star.