Here, Afghanistan, Let 'Rock the Kasbah' Tell You How to Live Your Life
With a $1.5 million opening weekend gross and a marketing campaign that basically boiled down to “…Hey, look, Bill Murray is in a thing!,” you’ve probably guessed by now that Rock the Kasbah is a steaming pile of shit.
If not: Rock the Kasbah is a steaming pile of shit.
Here’s the rundown: Murray plays Richie Lanz, a down-on-his-luck music manager whose only client is a dopeyquirky singer named Ronnie (Zooey Deschanel). They head to Afghanistan for a USO tour, only Ronnie books it with Richie’s passport and wallet. Stranded in a war-torn country, Richie eventually stumbles on Salima (Leem Lubany), the daughter of a local village elder. Though blessed with a golden set of pipes an all-consuming wish to appear on “American Idol” stand-in “Afghan Star,” Salima is nonetheless forbidden to compete by local traditions that prohibit women from singing in public. In grand ole cinematic curmudgeon tradition, Salima’s purity of voice and spirit breaks down some of Richie’s narcissistic, cynical barriers, and he becomes determined to help his new charge out.
So… yeah. White asshole from California barges into Afghanistan and teaches its people how to be enlightened and not sexist and shit. I honestly don’t want to put too much thought into the politics of this movie, because I am 99% sure that if I spent even five minutes trying to parse this Little Boy-esque stealth fuckery, I’d be giving it more consideration than Rock the Kasbah’s writer did.
Afghans in this movie are for the most part either barbaric or stupid… sometimes both. Richie makes comments like “[they’re] blowing up goats… must be some sort of festival or something” and “you folks from the mystic East.” That second comment comes later in the film, after Richie’s gained some respect and understanding of the country he’s barged into, and though it’s said in a semi-facetious way, it’s still incredibly infantilizing and just plain weird. ~~White dudes~~ in this movie save ~~brown dudes~~ both physically and morally, even though the white dudes are all awful jackasses. Bruce Willis plays a mercenary who, we learn, just got out of jail for stringing two “Taliban guys” upside down from their feet for two days. In the end, he gets to be the Clint Eastwood character leading a standoff between Salima’s father and a gun-happy rival. Kate Hudson’s prostitute character honest-to-God utters the line “I can fuck you like a Mousketeer on crack.”
An intertitle just before the credits roll dedicates Rock the Kasbah to Setara Hussainzada, the real-life pop star who challenged outdated prejudices by appearing on “Afghan Star” in 2007. But the movie doesn’t seem to give a shit about her fictionalized counterpart—the singing subplot doesn’t even start until 45 minutes in (that may be inaccurate—due to a severely meandering plot, time was oddly stretched while I was watching this movie), and even after we get to know Salima we get to know her less than we get to know how she affects Richie. She’s relegated to prop status in her own damn story, becoming the “girl in a cave” whose predicament lets Richie turn himself into a real man again.
There is only one good thing about Rock the Kasbah, and it is Leem Lubany’s eyebrows:
I can’t even add a cool Bill Murray gif here, because Rock the Kasbah doesn’t deserve it.
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