Rock the Kasbah is one of those movies that looks like it got shot and reshot and tinkered with so much between pre-production and release that all the studio’s horses and all the studio’s men couldn’t quite get it to make any sense again. Bill Murray plays Richie Lanz, a washed-up music manager who claims to have discovered Madonna. Probably no other living human being captures the public’s imagination quite like Bill Murray, a wizard who makes you believe in magic just by randomly showing up to football games and dinner parties. There’s a sense (probably correct) that he can carry weak material just by being Bill Murray. Kasbah, unfortunately, is some heavy lifting.
It feels full of potential at first. From his apartment in Van Nuys, Lanz “auditions” terrible, deluded aspiring singers, filling them full of hope so he can squeeze them for a $1500 management fee. His assistant/protegé played by Zooey Deschanel begs him to rediscover his professional fire, even as he has her singing Meredith Brooks’ “Bitch” at seedy bars in depressing suburbs. (Perfect song choice, by the way.) It’s at one of these that he meets a drunk, close-talking fat oddball (played by Glenn Fleshler, whom you may remember from his memorable turn as George Remus on Boardwalk Empire) who drunkenly promises Lanz and his charge a slot opening for Demi Lovato on an Afghan USO tour. After that, we never see him again.
At the very least, Mitch Glazer’s script (directed by Barry Levinson) displays an aptitude for sharp dialogue and just the right pop culture reference. When Murray goes to say goodbye to his daughter, her mother shouts from the other room, “Hurry, honey! Anne Coulter’s about to dance!” The less successful aspect of Glazer’s script (or at least, whatever duct-taped version of that script we’re seeing here) is that it yadda yaddas huge plot points, leaving us constantly wondering, “Wait, what?”
Once Murray arrives in Afghanistan (or at least in Levinson’s broad, kind of ignorant rendering of Afghanistan), Rock the Kasbah‘s attempt at screwball comedy leaves basic coherence behind. With the exotic locale and kooky, just go-with-it plot, Kasbah wouldn’t seem to need much embellishment. Yet Levinson has a pathological need to heighten every scene to the point where it doesn’t make sense anymore, not even reaching the miniscule threshold of believability required for comedy. It really doesn’t take much. But I can only suspend disbelief if I know what the hell it is I’m supposed to be believing.
Lanz gets stuck in Kabul with no money or passport, and how it even gets to that point is unnecessarily confusing. We see Murray rolling up his passport so he can hide it in the dummy bottom of a shaving cream bottle. Cut to the next morning, when Deschanel’s character has split with all his money… and his passport. Wait, how did she know where he’d hid his passport? And why did she steal it? She needed the money to get back home, sure, but why his passport?
No matter. Lanz’s search for her takes him to a heavily fortified bar in the “bad” part of town. After getting shot at by warlords with a .50 cal while driving a Cadillac convertible, they get to the club. Lanz walks through three heavily guarded blast doors before emerging into a hopping nightclub. He looks across the bar to see… Kate Hudson, dressed like a gypsy princess, walking into a pool. Wait… the fortified nightclub has a pool? And there’s only one person in it? And she’s swimming in a dress? Okay, fine, whatever. It’s a fancy meet-cute. Hudson’s character tells Lanz that she’ll “ride his cock like a coked-up Mouseketeer,” and asks if he has any money. He doesn’t, but he gives her his watch, which she tells him is cheap. Smash cut to… the next morning, with Bill Murray tied up in her bed (wearing a wig and lipstick, har har). So… I guess she had sex with him anyway? She was just chilling in her nightclub pool in a dress waiting for a broke 60-year-old to show up? Okay.
Point being, Rock the Kasbah has a way of piling up more and more plot points that don’t make any sense. It’s hard to just laugh and enjoy the ride when you’re constantly confused, to say nothing of the lengthy laugh deserts Kasbah passes through.
There are plenty of other examples of plot points that not only aren’t funny and nonsensical, they seem to contradict the story. These go along with characters who do abrupt about faces with no set up. I feel a bit like a medical examiner critiquing it, trying to figure out just what happened to this script. Clearly, there was some foul play. Some scenes are shot entirely in establishing shots where you get the strong sense the dialogue you’re hearing isn’t what was originally recorded, sometimes juxtaposed with closer shots that seem distinctly like they came from a different script draft. Whatever happened here, Rock the Kasbah manages to take one of our most charming leading men and turn him into a pathetic figure, flailing about, singing and shouting, trying desperately to enliven a dead party.
Grade: Shareef Don’t Like It.
Vince Mancini is a writer and comedian living in San Francisco. A graduate of Columbia’s non-fiction MFA program, his work has appeared on FilmDrunk, the UPROXX network, the Portland Mercury, the East Bay Express, and all over his mom’s refrigerator. Fan FilmDrunk on Facebook, find the latest movie reviews here.