Bill Murray’s good, not great in Rock the Kasbah

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2.5 stars out of 4 

Bruce Willis looked right at the TODAY show camera and told Matt Lauer exactly what he thinks of Bill Murray’s Rock the Kasbah.

“It’s his best movie,” Willis who’s also in the film, said.

Wait a minute. Back up.

Willis is really claiming that Murray’s latest film is his greatest? Even for a comedic icon with a resume that includes Caddyshack, Ghostbusters, Scrooged, What About Bob? and Groundhog Day, not too mention Lost in Translation that earned him an Oscar nomination and the acclaimed The Grand Budapest Hotel?

C’mon, Bruce. You’re 60, not senile. Even Carl Spackler would call you crazy for what came out of your mouth.

“He’s terrific in the picture,” Willis continued.

That’s better, Bruce, but not completely accurate.

Bruce Willis claims Rock the Kasbah is Bill Murray's greatest film. Is he mistaken? (Open Road)
Bruce Willis claims Rock the Kasbah is Bill Murray’s greatest film. Is he mistaken? (Open Road)

Murray’s more good than terrific in this stranger-than-fiction comedy based on the life of rock ‘n’ roll manager Richie Lanz, who’s desperate to turn back the clock to when he was the toast of Tinseltown. So he accompanies his last star singer (Zooey Deschanel) to war-ravaged Afghanistan for a USO Tour. But amid the mayhem, Lanz stumbles upon Salima Khan (Leem Lubany), a local teenager with an angelic voice and an audacious dream of becoming the first woman to sing on Middle Eastern country’s version of American Idol.

But Rock the Kasbah has more to offer than the improvised explosive devices and improvised Murray lines that keep the audience engaged throughout the funny — but not hysterical — 100-minute film.

Director Barry Levinson (Rain Main, Good Morning, Vietnam, Sleepers) and writer Mitch Glazer deserve credit for a film that casts Muslims in a different light on the sliver screen, as for decades stereotypes of the Islamic people have cast them as terrorists, with women often being relegated to smaller, subservient roles.

And while there is a power-hungry warlord in Rock The Kasbah, the country’s leader calls for more brotherhood than bullets.

Bill Murray is good, but not great, in Rock the Kasbah. (Open Road)
Bill Murray is good, but not great, in Rock the Kasbah. (Open Road)

But no one shatters the mold more than Khan. Lubany is exquisite in her ability to thrust her character into the spotlight, as she commands the stage with a dazzling voice to match her outfit.

Rock the Kasbah isn’t just a Murray and Lubany show, though they do much of the heavy lifting. Kate Hudson plays a street-smart hooker, while Danny McBride and Scott Caan are entertaining as guys trying to make a buck off the bloodshed. Willis does what he’s always done best: picks up a gun and goes to work. This time, he’s a trigger-happy mercenary.

It’s been a while since Glazer and Murray last worked together, when the duo took Scrooged to more than $60 million at the box office in 1988. But Murray still has the wit that’s defined much of his career, while Deschanel, Willis and Hudson complement him well.

At 65, Murray’s best days are behind him, but he remains relevant because he chooses his roles wisely. Rock the Kasbah isn’t among Murray’s best work, but considering how high he’s already set his bar through the decades, Murray doesn’t need to be great to be good.

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