Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Movie Review: "Rock the Kasbah" (2015)

Movie"Rock the Kasbah"
Director: Barry Levinson
Rating: R
Running Time: 1 hour, 40 minutes
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Richie Lanz (Bill Murray) is a talent manager and hustler from Van Nuys, California. His only remotely successful act, a young singer named Ronnie Smiler (Zooey Deschanel), who earns money singing cover songs at local bars, has just received an offer to perform at a touring U.S.O. show in Afghanistan. Lanz quickly accepts the offer, much to the dismay of Ronnie. Upon their arrival in the war-torn city of Kabul, Ronnie cannot handle the environment and stress of it all, so she flees, ditching Richie and leaving him stranded with no money and no passport. Without a lot of options, Richie finds himself involved in an illegal arms deal led by Nick (Danny McBride) and Jake (Scott Caan), two American ballistics dealers operating in Kabul, who promise him money and quickie passport in exchange for his facilitation of the deal with Tariq (Fahim Fazli), the chief of a small Pashtun village in need of bullets to maintain their survival. It is at this village where Richie discovers Salima (Leem Lubany), an extremely talented singer he hopes to book on the television show "Afghan Star." There is only one problem: Salima's culture and religion forbid women from singing in public.

What did the famous song by "The Clash" say? "Shareef don't like it"? Well, he certainly wouldn't fancy "Rock the Kasbah" the film, either.

"Rock the Kasbah" has found solace in banking its success on Bill Murray. In almost every frame of the trailer, which has been playing ad nauseum in So Cal, we were quite looking forward to seeing him in this film. Now, Billy Murray might be an incredible actor and human being, but when it comes to his average box office numbers, well, he's never been a huge draw. In fact, Murray owes a lot of his recent success to the internet, who seems to be collectively obsessed with him, but doesn't take the time to watch his films. While BigJ and I both love the guy, this is not a great movie. It's another middle-of-the-road mess of an October film that has its heart in the right place, but lacks the proper execution, flow, and substance to keep it going. When we say it's heart is in the right place, we mean in its attempt to raise awareness for the female oppression that often happens in the Middle East. Unfortunately, its heart also has a gigantic xenophobic hole in it. Critics have torn this movie to shreds for being culturally insensitive to the people and country of Afghanistan, which is where it all takes place, and in a way, we can understand this sentiment. It often presents its information and story in an outright racist manner. Here again is another example of what is called the "white savior industrial complex," where the white protagonist(s) of a film swoop in to save someone else from a notoriously bad, non-white dominant section of the population and be their advocate, helper, and most importantly, their champion.

Bill Murray is the driving force for everything going on here. He is as charming as ever as Richie Lanz and lays on said charm as thick as always, doing his standard Murray-esque shtick. While he does manage to get in a couple of laughs, this does not make a movie good, it merely saves it from being an outright disaster. There are a lot of moving parts and characters in this film, many of which get dropped before they are ever fully developed. None of the supporting cast gets much development apart from Kate Hudson's character Merci, the typical Hollywood prostitute with a heart-of-gold and a penchant for older men, and Leem Lubany's Salima, who is the undiscovered Pashtun singing sensation and supposed major protagonist of the film, even though she has hardly any development beyond her singing capabilities and her association with her religion, her village, and her country. We believe the script writers and filmmakers had so many missed opportunities to craft Salima's character into a more interesting person outside of her own desires to be a singer and her existence, place, and function in a male-driven religion and society. She could have been a massive hero to this story, a Malala Yousafzai-type of inspiration to young girls within her community for standing up against all odds to showcase her Allah given talent in honor of him and in defiance of her oppressors, and though "Rock the Kasbah" attempts to do this, we could quite frankly care less about her and have no emotional attachment towards her character in the slightest. Other actors like Danny McBride, Scott Caan, Taylor Kinney, and even Zooey Deschanel to an extent play characters who disappear as abruptly as they were introduced.

Bill Murray, god love him, obviously got a big favor somewhere in exchange for his participation in this mess because he deserves better than what he was given. He deserves better than this poorly written script with a whole lot of misfires and racist undertones. He deserves better than shoddy editing, random scene drop-offs, and an underdeveloped supporting cast. He deserved better than "Rock the Kasbah," the stagnant, slow moving movie that it is. In the end, no one will remember this film exists, and moviegoers have already seemed to forget it was even in the theater at all.

My Rating: 4/10
BigJ's Rating: 5/10
IMDB's Rating: 5.4/10
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 7%
Do we recommend this movie: No.

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