Review: 'Rock the Kasbah' Gives War-Torn Afghanistan the Hollywood Treatment

Kyra Power ’19 / Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer
Bill Murray in Rock the Kasbah. Photo Credit: Open Road Films.
Rock the Kasbah makes war-torn Afghanistan into a comedic setting for a Hollywood film. The story follows has-been music manager, Richie Lanz (Bill Murray) as he tries to restart his career. What initially begins as a trip to Kabul to promote his cover artist, Ronnie (Zooey Deschanel), turns into a journey of self redemption and of course, Afghani reality television. While carrying out an arms deal for two Americans (Danny McBride and Scott Caan), Richie comes across a Pashtun girl, Salima (Leem Lubany), with an incredible voice and passion for singing, both of which are not allowed by her religion. Despite this, Richie knows that she has talent and makes it his mission to get her onto Afghanistan’s equivalent of American Idol.
This film could focus on the real struggles of gender and religion as a young woman attempts to change her society, but instead it focuses on Richie’s struggle and all its comedic aspects. Salima’s journey is an inspiring one and is loosely inspired by Setara Hussainzada, whose story is portrayed in the 2009 documentary Afghan Star. Rock the Kasbah does not do Salima’s story justice. The full gravity of her situation is not portrayed. The concept of a Pashtun woman singing on live TV with her face uncovered is not a big deal to Richie or his story. Instead, the film focuses on the white American man redefining himself by helping a Afghani girl. Richie is the star of this film, even though his story is one that has been told hundreds of times in Hollywood films.
Bill Murray in Rock the Kasbah. Photo Credit: Open Road Films.
That being said, the film does have its funny parts, especially in the beginning before Salima is introduced. The first half follows Richie struggling in America with his ditzy cover artist, Ronnie. After an encounter with a highly intoxicated music tour promoter, Richie is inspired to travel to Kabul, where he meets a variety of eccentric American expats, including an ex-militia operative (Bruce Willis) and a beautiful prostitute (Kate Hudson). Richie’s interactions with these characters give some good laughs and provide an ironic look at American expats in war torn countries.
Yet, the film dramatically branches away from this story and seems to constantly struggling with what it is actually about. The plot takes a while to be introduced, and characters who appeared important are suddenly gone and never mentioned again. There are multiple morals to the story, and ultimately leaves the viewer dazed and under the impression they have missed something.
If looking for a film that focuses on the real struggles of women’s rights in Afghanistan, this is not it. While not one of Bill Murray’s greatest performances, Kate Hudson and Zooey Deschanel are both worth the watch. Ultimately, Rock the Kasbah is comedic in a confused, slightly endearing sort of way.
Overall Grade: C
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