A washed-up rock promoter (Bill Murray) brings an act to Afghanistan, and in the process gets caught up in arms deals, a tribal feud and the country’s answer to Pop Idol.
Coming on like a weird mix of a P. J. O’Rourke article and Dreamgirls, this dud is confused to its core. When struggling music manager Richie Lanz (Bill Murray) stumbles upon the idea of making a quick buck by taking his sole singer to Afghanistan for a USO tour, it feels like we’re gearing up for a Charlie Wilson’s War wheeze. Lord knows the cocktails ’n’ arms deals side of the War On Terror is tailor-made for satire, but instead Lanz happens to bumble into a cave where Salima (Palestinian actress Leem Lubany) is singing along to Afghan Star, the country’s most popular singing contest, and sets about trying to bring her to national attention despite the objections of her tribal elders.
Coming on like a weird mix of a P. J. O’Rourke article and Dreamgirls, this dud is confused to its core.
You might think the stage has been set for an uplifting tale of triumph, but no deal. Rock The Kasbah seems to think it’s celebrating Salima’s victory over the patriarchy of hardcore Afghan Islam, but it’s barely interested in her – she sings more lines than she speaks. All the women in the film – Salima, Zooey Deschanel’s flaky singer/assistant and Kate Hudson’s bizarre hooker with a heart – are props in a half-assed examination of Lanz’s journey all the way from motormouth dealmaker to motormouth dealmaker with a tan.
Bill Murray is at his best when his wry goofiness is up against either squares or sadness. Faced with an actual war, he just comes across as a superficial dick – most of all in an extraordinary scene where he treats an Afghan gathering to his version of Smoke On The Water on a lute. There’s an interesting story in here – and it’s not the one about the old guy who keeps bullshitting about Woodstock. If you want to see the real deal, check out the cracking 2009 documentary Afghan Star — whose star Rock The Kasbah has the audacity to name-check at the end.
On paper, this could have been excellent; as it stands, it’s painful and futile for all involved. Much like the Afghan conflict itself.