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Rock the Kasbah
Director Barry Levinson continues to make movies in the fourth decade of his career. Sadly, it appears Levinson no longer makes good movies. The man behind Rain Man, Good Morning, Vietnam and The Natural has been on an ever-worsening backslide since 1998's Sphere, and it appears the train-wreck continues. Rock the Kasbah is another failed, high-concept comedy from Levinson, with a cast led by Bill Murray and supported by Kate Hudson, Zooey Deschanel, Danny McBride, Scott Caan and Bruce Willis. After his last paying client abandons him in Afghanistan, bottom-feeding entertainment manager Richie Lanz (Murray) discovers a local Pashtun with a serious set of pipes. As fresh as last week's bread, Rock the Kasbah is dull and full of stereotypes that might be offensive if they were not so cliché. Somehow, Levinson has managed to make Murray as unfunny as his film. Fortunately for them both, this will soon be forgotten.
At first glance, Rock the Kasbah sounds like it might be funny, right? Somehow Levinson and writer Mitch Glazer take this story, loosely adapted from documentary Afghan Star, and beat any life out of it. It is immediately clear that Murray's Lanz is full of shit. He does not know Madonna, has not repped the Rolling Stones, and can offer his last client, Ronnie (Deschanel), nothing more than a glorified karaoke tour at military bases. I almost forgot this movie is supposed to be about an Afghan singer, since it spins the first hour treading water after Ronnie ditches Richie in Kabul, Afghanistan, where he hooks up with some idiot private contractors (Caan, McBride and Willis).
The "Afghan Star" is Salima (Leem Lubany), a young village girl with a wonderful voice who wants to compete on her country's version of "American Idol." A woman has never sung on live TV in Afghanistan, and the show's producers don't roll out the red carpet. That Rock the Kasbah treats Salima like a background character is only one of its insults. There are plenty of unfunny cultural "misunderstandings" between Richie, the soldiers and the locals, and the best way to describe these would-be comedic moments is tired. Speaking of tired, Kate Hudson plays base hooker Merci, who becomes a den mother of sorts to Salima. The film hints at a romantic relationship for Merci and Richie, but settles on a friendship. There are plenty of missed opportunities to explore the social divide between hooker and her sheltered keep.
You cannot say Murray is always funny, at least not after you see Rock the Kasbah. The film could have been sharp, sarcastic and entertaining, but it instead plays like a feel-good, coming-of-age story for a young girl and her crusty mentor. Murray looks lost in this material and bored, thoroughly bored. Hey, at least we have that in common. The film's 106 minutes feel like an eternity, and I can count the number of laughs on one hand. Rock the Kasbah bungles its comedy, social commentary and domestic drama. This unfunny, low-effort filmmaking from a once-great director.
The 2.40:1/1080p/AVC-encoded image is strong. The digitally sourced image is crisp and clear, with good fine-object detail and texture. Levinson desaturates the color scheme to mirror the Afghan setting, but skin tones appear accurate. Black levels are good, but I noticed some crush in darker outdoor scenes, as well as some brief aliasing.
The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio mix provides clear, balanced dialogue, lightly immersive ambient effects, and a surround-backed musical soundtrack. There are some nice directional effects and sound pans, and the LFE supports some action events. English SDH, Spanish and French subtitles are included.
PACKAGING AND EXTRAS:
This two-disc "combo pack" includes the Blu-ray, a DVD copy and both iTunes and UltraViolet HD digital copies. The discs are packed in a standard case that is wrapped in an attractive slipcover. The extras are mostly garbage: Richie Lanz: The Man and the Music (2:28/HD) is a brief, faux documentary about Murray's character. You also get some Deleted Scenes (2:47 total/HD) and Bill Murray Rocks (2:34/HD), in which the cast sings the actor's praises.
Director Barry Levinson continues his walk of shame with Rock the Kasbah, an unfunny waste of Bill Murray's talents. This limp, poorly scripted comedy loosely follows the true story of a young Pashtun girl who sings on "Afghan Star." Murray is a crappy entertainment manager, and Rock the Kasbah forgets that the actor is best suited for acerbic, quick-witted characters. Skip It.
William lives in Burlington, North Carolina, and looks forward to a Friday-afternoon matinee.