Murray plays Richie Lanz, a rock ‘n’ roll manager who’s been around so long he worked with Eddie Money back when he was still known as Eddie Mahoney. Based out of a dowdy home office in Van Nuys, California, he only has one real client, cover band singer Ronnie (Zooey Deschanel). When the offer of a USO tour of Afghanistan pops up he jumps at the chance but almost as soon as they land Ronnie splits, taking Richie’s cash and passport.
Stranded, he parties with American gun runners, the self titled Ammo Kings of Kabul (Scott Caan & Danny McBride), hangs out with a hooker-with-a-heart-of-gold (Kate Hudson) and before finally hiring a mercenary named Bombay Brian (Bruce Willis) to smuggle him out of the country.
To raise Bombay’s fee he agrees to smuggle ammunition into the rural Paktia province. When things go wrong he winds up in a small village where he hears the beautiful voice of Salima (Leem Lubany), an Afghan girl who sings Cat Stevens’ songs in secret. Always a hustler, Richie isn’t going to let the lack of credentials stop him from plying his trade. Sensing her talent he takes her on, guiding her through to the top of Afghan Star, an American Idol knock-off.
Everybody loves Bill Murray. That is a fact. Unarguable. He has woven himself into the fabric of popular culture both on screen and off. If he’s not opening a movie he’s going viral, getting videoed at some random dude’s bachelor party providing marital advice. He’s everywhere and is usually a welcome presence but lately I’ve begun to feel that his career is in a bit of a “Groundhog Day” loop. Time after time he has returned to a familiar formula: crabby guy alienates everyone around him only to have a warm and cuddly epiphany by the time the credits role. Frank Cross, Phil Connors, Vincent MacKenna or Richie Lanz, the character names change but their journeys are essentially the same.
Normally audiences don’t care, Murray is such an icon it’s enough for him to simply show up and snark his way through a few funny lines and VIOLA! instant classic. It’s a crowd-pleasing recipe but it runs dry in “Rock the Kasbah.” Strapped with an improbable and occasionally insulting premise (although it is VERY loosely based on the true story of Setara Hussainzada) and a third act twist into misplaced social commentary Murray’s charm falls flat. With his message of tolerance director Barry Levinson certainly has his heart in the right place but the movie is off key and unfunny.