Rock the Kasbah Bill Murray, Kate Hudson, Leem Lubany. Directed by Barry Levinson. Rated R. Opens Friday.
Rock the Kasbah ends with a dedication to Setara Hussainzada, a female contestant on the singing competition Afghan Star who received death threats after daring to dance on national television in Afghanistan. The movie isn’t about its fictional counterpart to Hussainzada, though; instead, it focuses on washed-up American talent manager Richie Lanz (Bill Murray), who finds himself stranded in Kabul after a planned USO tour for his only client (Zooey Deschanel) goes awry. Richie bumbles through various misadventures, and eventually, nearly an hour into the movie, he discovers Salima (Leem Lubany), a shy Afghan teen with a beautiful singing voice, and resolves to make her a star.
The story of a young woman going against cultural prejudices and risking her life to express herself in song could be compelling and inspirational, but Salima is merely a supporting character in Richie’s redemption. Murray coasts through a familiar part as a lovable loser, and director Barry Levinson populates the cast with famous faces (Deschanel, Kate Hudson, Bruce Willis, Danny McBride, Scott Caan) whose brief presences make it seem like they owed some producer a favor.
Levinson can’t find the right tone for Mitch Glazer’s screenplay, and the movie lumbers from dopey comedy to toothless satire to straight-faced social commentary to half-realized thriller, none of it particularly successful. The eccentric Murray is known for being choosy with his projects, but it’s hard to tell what he saw in this mess, which sidelines its one interesting character in favor of another story about a schlubby middle-aged white dude finding his purpose.