There’s no doubt that agent Richie Lanz is playing among the lesser lights in the biz no matter how much he boasts about his connections and his past. He may have discovered Madonna at a hamburger joint and told Jimi Hendrix to play The Star Spangled Banner at Woodstock in The Day, but right now he’s listening to godawful singers warble ion his office in a motel in Van Nuys to hustle them for a check. His main client sings cover songs at a bar and also answers his phone. When an enthusiastic drunk singer at that bar suggests he book her on an SSO tour, he and Ronnie find themselves on a plane to Kabul.
Played wide-eyed in distress and fright by Zooey Deschanel, she bolts before the first show, stealing his cash and passport.
This all allows Bill Murray to display his arch dryness every step of the way. Written by Mitch Glazer and directed by Barry Levenson, Rock the Kasbah is not a comedy, though it has its funny moments. It’s not a drama, though it has its tense moments. It’s not a documentary, though it’s loosely based on the tale of real singer Setara Hussainzada, who appeared on Afghan Star despite death threats.
You might expect great things from these two, considering Glazer wrote Scrooged and Levenson, well, he directed Diner and <Good Morning, Vietnam,, just to name two of a dozen recognizable winners.
But this one is all over the place.
Bruce Willis plays a mercenary who first hold Richie up for the rest of the cash he charged Ronnie to get her out of Afghanistan and then helps him in his plan to help singer Salima reach her dream.
Scott Caan and Danny McBride play salesmen-turned-wackos who send Richie on the dangerous mission to earn the money he needs to settle up that score.
Kate Hudson plays a hooker with a heart of gold and big brains who takes a liking to Richie for his ear and business sense. And, yeah, Levenson thinks nothing of romantically mismatching the 36-year-old Hudson and 65-year-old Murray as if it were natural.
But the most bothersome thing about Rock the Kasbah is that Murray is good in it, Hudson is enjoyable, and Leem Lubany as the Afghan woman Salima really can sing beautifully — how about Cat Stevens’ classic hit Peace Train in English? — and act well, too, standing up to her peeved father and convincing Richie that she could do this and he should represent her.
Unfortunately, the plot takes an hour to introduce her, and then we only get to hear her perform twice. Instead we get to dwell on a warlord and bullets and in-country feud and Richie thinking he can negotiate that battle.
Imagine the huge triumph when this woman dared to cross family, religious and cultural traditions to perform on TV and show women should have that right and can do it, and enough of her country people voted for her to put her into the finals. At least they got these scenes right.
Which is your favorite Barry Levenson-directed movie, and why? Do you prefer Bill Murray in his comedies or dramas, and why? Which is your favorite Bruce Willis movie, and why?