Kate Erbland at Indie Wire wrote:
It’s fitting that Barry Levinson’s charmless "Rock the Kasbah" opens with a chyron announcing that the action we’re about to see takes place "in the recent past," because the rock n’ roll-tinged comedy feels like something pulled out of a very different time.
Me: I learned a new word :chyron:
An electronically generated caption superimposed on a television or movie screen.
The Bill Murray-starring feature doesn’t come with any of the sharp political humor that punctuates films like Levinson’s "Good Morning, Vietnam" or "Wag the Dog," instead opting to throw a bunch of "wacky" characters into a literal warzone and hoping that something amusing emerges from the subsequent friction. Although no one comes off looking especially good, an acceptable alternate title for the film could be "The Ugly Americans," because Mitch Glazer’s script takes some of the worst stereotypes about ex-pats and blows them sky high. The result is a film populated exclusively by people who make not only baffling choices, but genuinely rotten ones.
Nutshell plot: Bill Murray plays an ageing has-been (or would like to have been a has-been) rock tour manager who makes a last ditch attempt to make some money and fame by taking a mediocre female rock singer on an USO tour to Afghanistan. She hops it almost immediately, taking with her his stash of money and his passport, leaving him marooned in Kabul.
That fairly boring part of the film takes up too much time. Murray's character then gets himself into some sticky situations with a mercenary soldier who had helped the singer escape (Bruce Willis), some shady Afghan arms dealers, and a rather unbelievable American prostitute (Kate Hudson)supposedly building up her 401k by servicing long lines of eager clients in central Kabul. All this takes up another too-long slice before we get to what ought to have been the story's heart.
After narrowly escaping being blown up in a Humvee, Murray's character has to stay with a reclusive Afghan tribe out in the desert. He hears a beautiful singing voice one night when wandering outside, tracks it down to a cave, and finds a young Pashtun woman singing there and watching an old TV set playing an episode of Afghan Star (something akin to early American Idol before it became totally corporate). Enough to say (spoiler) that Murray's character manages to spirit the young woman, Salima, played by Leem Lubany, away from her father and the tribe who threaten her with death for her sinful singing, and get her into the final of Afghan Star, where she sings Peace Train (the Cat Stevens/Yusuf Islam song) ...and...well you can guess the rest.
The film, directed by Barry Levinson, who also directed the excellent Wag the Dog - is a very odd and vaguely uncomfortable mix, but not entirely unpleasant. It has been really badly panned, far more so than deserved, in my opinion.
Rock the Kasbah carries a dedication frame at the end of the movie:
And so to the the music part of Music Monday: from the movie, Leem Lubany's rendition of Peace Train:...to Setara Hussainzada, who did come out from under her hijab in her final performance on Afghan Star, but the Pashtun contestant that year was another female, Lema Sahar. The excellent 2009 documentary Afghan Star chronicles the show’s tumultuous existence — and suggests that Rock the Kasbah exaggerates the paucity of women on the show. After the U.S. drove the Taliban out of Kabul, Afghan Star became a symbol of the return of secular culture.