Movie Review: Bill Murray in 'Rock the Kasbah'

Danny McBride, Bill Murray and Scott Caan take a joyride in "Rock the Kasbah." Caan lights the joint and passes to Murray.

Don't pay attention to the negative reviews Rock the Kasbah is receiving. It's an interesting lark of movie, directed by Barry Levinson (Diner, Rain Man, Bugsy) and starring Bill Murray in the leading role. Watch the trailer below.

Richie Lanz (Murray) is a down-on-his-luck music industry manager, working out of his apartment in Los Angeles. His lone client, Ronnie (a disheveled Zooey Deschanel), sings covers at a local bar. One night Richie runs into a USO promoter. Next thing Richie and Ronnie are en route to Afghanistan to entertain whatever American troops are left in the war-torn country.

Their introduction to Kabul is a harrowing cab ride during which artillery rounds are being fired all around them. Terrified, Ronnie steals Richie's money and passport and departs for Dubai.

Richie's survival instinct takes over. He meets a couple of American mercenaries played hilariously by Danny McBride and Scott Caan, who take him on a joyride through the city's pock-marked streets. Along the way they smoke a joint (something Murray's done in many movies). At a surprisingly swanky club, Richie encounters Merci (Kate Hudson), a captivating American vixen who turns tricks for the locals. Richie ends up in her trailer boudoir, tied to the bed post and wearing a woman's wig.

Bill Murray hams it up from start to finish in 'Rock the Kasbah.' Richie Lanz is a role he was born to play.

Jack and Nick (the mercenaries) make him an offer he should refuse: To deliver guns to a desert tribe of Pashtuns. That evening he serenades them with a hoarse version of  "Smoke on the Water" (pure Murray genius) and later discovers a girl singing Cat Steven songs in a cave. Her dream is to appear on the Kabul TV show, "Afghan Star." The problem is women, especially the traditional Pashtuns, are not allowed to appear on the show.

They arrive back in Kabul, where Richie talks the show's producer into allowing her to sing. The shocked audience fails to applaud. Back home Salima (Leem Lubany) is shunned and warned not to go back. Richie, who won't take no for an answer, takes a bullet in the shoulder instead.

Salima's beautiful rendition of "Peace Train" is the film's denouement, the basic message the movie is trying to convey. Isn't it about time, after so many years of war,  Afghanistan takes "a ride on the peace train"?

Perhaps you'll have to be a Murray fan to truly appreciate Rock the Kasbah. Richie Lanz is a role he was born to play. Murray hams it up from start to finish, like Woody Allen's two-bit agent in Broadway Danny Rose. But the critics think the film is politically incorrect - that you can't set a comedy in such a harsh environment. But I say, why not? No Afghans were presumably harmed during the making of the movie, which by the way was shot in Morocco. And the story about a Pashtun girl who aspired to a sing on TV is true

So sit back, enjoy the scenery and have a larf. 

Rock the Kasbah is in theaters now.

Steve Bloom

Steve Bloom

Publisher of, former editor of High Times and Freedom Leaf and co-author of Pot Culture and Reefer Movie Madness.