October 23 (Open Road)
Bill Murray, Kate Hudson, ZooeyDeschanel, Bruce Willis
Rock the Kasbah, an intermittently amusing but dramatically problematic mish-mash that careens all over a rough and rocky road. The idea of parachuting Bill Murray as a washed-up ’60s rock tour manager into the nightmare of contemporary Afghanistan no doubt seemed like too promising a fish-out-of-water story not to pursue. But so much of what goes down, particularly as concerns the modest but insistent hopefulness of the third act, feels like an overly idealistic wish-fulfillment fantasy and fails to unite the film’s assorted creative aspirations.
From the opening scene of his client-hungry Richie Lanz auditioning an impossibly bad young singer in his cheap Van Nuys digs, it’s clear Murray has this perennial loser down cold, raising comic expectations for the moment this rock ‘n’ roll-world sad sack gets stuck in a place where no one has a clue where he’s coming from.
Although he’s certainly arrived at retirement age, especially in his line of work, Richie is still hustling for clients and gigs, even if he’s scraping bottom; as he puts it, he’s down but not out.
Despite this and the fact that Kabul is in total lockdown, Richie is so conditioned to greet all adversity with hippie-era mellowness and a sense of music-business entitlement that his first move upon arrival at the woefully un-Majestic Hotel is to ask for an upgrade. He’s then taken under wing by two fast-talking, well-connected and completely fearless arms dealers, Nic (Danny McBride) and Jake (Scott Caan). In the film’s most engaging interlude, these hustlers pack Richie in their car and make a precarious nocturnal dash through the deeply ominous city streets to arrive at a heavily barricaded establishment that, once inside, looks like a Miami disco.
This joint, one concludes, is the contemporary equivalent of Rick’s Cafe Americain, the spot where all foreigners congregate to wheel and deal before they can get out of Casablanca…errr, Kabul, where no one in their right mind wants to be. Let’s just say that the clientele here is rather less sophisticated and classy than at Rick’s (the music’s not as good either), although Richie does meet an exotic hooker with the cute professional name of Merci (Kate Hudson) who’s looking for her own version of letters of transit but would seem to be making a pretty penny in the meantime.
Moroccan locations doubled for Afghanistan, where no Western dramatic film has been shot since Peter Brook’s Meetings with Remarkable Men in 1979.
Production: Venture Forth, QED International, Shangri-La Entertainment
Cast: Bill Murray, Kate Hudson, Zooey Deschanel, Danny McBride, Scott Caan, Leem Lubany, Arian Moayed, Bruce Willis, Taylor Kinney, Glenn Fleshler, Daoud Sididi, Sameer Ali Khan, Fahim Fazil, Jonas Khan, Sarah Baker
Director: Barry Levinson
Screenwriter: Mitch Glazer
Producers: Jacob Pechenik, Bill Block, Ethan Smith, Steve Bing, Mitch Glazer
Executive producers: Tom Ortenberg Peter Lawson, Iakovos Petsenikakis, Iakovina Petsenikakina,
Sasha Shapiro, Anton Lessine, Brian Grazer, Tom Freston, Marsha Swinton
Director of photography: Sean Bobbitt
Production designer: Niels Sejer
Costume designer: Deborah L. Scott
Editors: Aaron Yanes, David Moritz
Music: Marcelo Zarvos
Casting: Ellen Chenoweth, Salah Benchegra