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Movie Review

Richie Lanz is going to Afghanistan.

No, he's not a soldier. And he's not a government contractor. He's a washed-up rock 'n' roll manager currently holed up in a sleazy apartment in Van Nuys, Calif.

One night at a bar promoting his lone client, singer Ronnie Smiler, he bumps into a drunk who loves her voice … and who also books stars for the USO. Stars like Demi Lovato and Solange, he brags.

"This rocks," the inebriated USO guy gushes about Ronnie. "You should bring this s--- to Afghanistan." OK. Why not? After all, at this point in his disheveled, disappointing life, Richie is game for just about anything. Including dragging Ronnie to a Middle East war zone.

"Daddy, nobody tours Afghanistan," Richie's grade-school age daughter (of an estranged ex), Dree, tells him before he leaves. No matter, Richie insists. He and Ronnie will rock the Kasbah.

"But they don't have Kasbahs in Afghanistan," Dree corrects. "North Africa. Not Afghanistan."

Well, whatever.

Ronnie agrees to go, but has second thoughts immediately, vomiting on the descent into Kabul and dropping a "Mexican Quaalude" to take the edge off. It doesn't help when a goat gets blown up en route to their hotel. Or when they see said hotel surrounded by sandbags.

And then Ronnie's second thoughts hit Richie right between the eyes when she vanishes—with Richie's passport and all his money. What's a worn-out rock promoter trapped in Afghanistan supposed to do now?

Well.

It's not long before Richie …

… meets a "helpful" prostitute named Merci. … runs into the deadly serious mercenary Bombay Brian. … and gets tagged by two opportunistic arms dealers (Jake and Nick) who are pushing ammo to anyone who'll buy it.

It turns out those dealers need a new delivery man. So in exchange for, oh, say, $50,000, Jake and Nick want Richie to deliver their goods to embattled tribal leader Tariq Khan. It's there that Richie hears something sublime: the voice of teen girl Salima Khan singing in a cave outside the village. It's the kind of voice Richie's been searching for all his life.

Soon the natural-born huckster hatches an audacious plan: getting Salima on Afghan Star, the local equivalent of American Idol.

No, no, no, insists his taxi driver, Riza. "They will kill her, and then they will kill us with big, sharp rocks." But Richie will not be deterred. "This has got to be fate," he tells Riza. "I am supposed to be here."

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Positive Elements

Richie is an insecure, failed rock promoter who constantly spins hyperbolic stories of his exploits touring with rock legends (Madonna, Michael Jackson, Pink Floyd, etc.). But when he meets Salima, he's convinced she is the discovery of his life. He ignores warnings that his meddling in Afghan culture could cost him his life, striving to get Salima onto Afghan Star and to convince everyone around her (especially her father) to give the girl a shot (a chance at stardom, not a stray bullet).

Richie's courage falters at times, but his moments of weakness end up unearthing either deeper reserves of bravery or, in one case, an episode of honesty that does his soul good. He's determined to stick with Salima, even if doing so kills him. And speaking of being killed, Richie's daughter desperately wants her dad to avoid that fate. "I love you," she tells him tenderly. "Just come back."

Richie's bloated ego and the narcissistic swath he cuts through life often leave bystanders scratching their heads. But that same bullheaded stubbornness yields success in getting Salima on Afghan Star. It also challenges the religiously fueled discrimination against women that he sees. And the movie ends with Salima singing a gospel-tinged song about peace. "Twenty-five years of killing," Salima's father, Tariq, laments. "I am tired of war, and I cannot afford the peace."

Spiritual Content

Salima tells Richie, "Allah gave me this voice. It is his gift. … I must honor god with my voice." Her conviction is so deep that she's willing to sacrifice her life to serve Allah, saying, "It is Allah's will, and we will die together." She adds, "Allah loves those who act justly."

Tariq, meanwhile, is a gruff-but-honorable man who refuses to have his daughter—who has been labeled an infidel—killed. Tariq tells Richie, "Allah helps the innocent." Richie responds, "We have a saying, 'The Lord works in mysterious ways.'"

Despite saying that, Richie is anything but religious. And Salima tells him, "There's a candle in your heart, ready to be kindled. There's a void in your heart waiting to be filled. You will feel it. I promise you will feel it."

The film offers sympathetic portraits of Salima's and (to a somewhat lesser extent) Tariq's Muslim faith. Other followers of Islam, however, are depicted as violent, legalistic and hypocritical. Muslim warlords call for Salima's execution even as they secretly cavort with scantily clad women.

Sexual Content

Merci is a popular prostitute in Kabul. She's swimming while wearing a clingy dress when Richie first meets her at a lavish party, and she brags to him, "I can f--- you like a Mousketeer on crack. I could do things that are illegal in every civilized nation on Earth." Richie takes her up on the offer (offscreen), and the next morning we see him bound to her bed, wearing a diaper, a wig and bright red lipstick. A long line of men forms outside Merci's trailer; Richie tells them, "It's worth the wait."

Merci sees working as a prostitute—which she implies is making her wealthy—as a stepping stone to her bigger dream of moving to Hawaii and becoming a real estate agent. Her fling with Richie evolves into a romance of sorts, and at one point she says she's done selling herself (though she goes back on that promise).

We see Merci wearing lingerie and see her blurred form through translucent shower glass. A pool party boasts women in bikinis. An underground speakeasy-style club features scantily clad female patrons.

Salima is repeatedly labeled a "whore." Richie makes a crude joke about an Afghan man leering at Ronnie. Brian caresses Ronnie (who is stoned) suggestively. Merci implies her sexual prowess can induce spiritual experiences such as speaking in tongues and brags hyperbolically that she gives her partners the ability to handle snakes.

Violent Content

An SUV explodes and flips when it hits an IED. (Two survivors crawl out of the wreckage). After a bomb explodes in Kabul, we see a cloud of smoke and hear that a goat has been obliterated. Afghan soldiers at a checkpoint open fire with automatic weapons on a fleeing car. We hear gunfire signaling a brief firefight near the conclusion, and Richie is hit in the shoulder. (Blood seeps through his shirt.) There's grim talk—joking and otherwise—about getting executed.

Crude or Profane Language

More than 20 f-words. About a dozen s-words. God's name is taken in vain at least 10 times, more than half the time paired with "d--n." We hear "h---," "a--hole," "b--ch" and "p---y."

Drug and Alcohol Content

Ronnie takes a Quaalude and gets knocked for a dizzy, drowsy loop. Nick and Jake share a massive joint and coax Richie into taking a draw on it, too. (Richie's quite stoned afterward.) Warlords are trying to manipulate Tariq into growing opium poppies. (He refuses.) Several scenes are in bars.

Other Negative Elements

Ronnie vomits repeatedly. We see Richie (from mid-torso up) urinating.

Jake and Nick talk about only selling ammo to the "good guys," but it's clear from their massive stacks of cash that they'll peddle munitions to anyone. They knowingly sell defective ammo to Tariq. Richie, meanwhile, isn't above preying on those seeking stardom. Early on, he takes $1,200 from an awful singer whom he has no real interest in promoting—even though he promises her he'll do just that. He's two months behind on child support for Dree. And he talks to Dree secretly without her mother's knowledge.

Salima sneaks away from her village to join Richie and to perform on Afghan Star by hiding in the trunk of Riza's taxi. Bribes grease virtually every transaction in Afghanistan.

Conclusion

Bill Murray has the comedically cantankerous genius-in-his-own mind shtick down pat. And he unleashes it again in Rock the Kasbah, to markedly mixed effect. At times, Richie Lanz is unexpectedly delightful. Other times, he's a narcissistic boor.

I feel the same way about his film as a whole, which includes meditations about using the gifts we're given and being willing to sacrifice our lives for the sake of others. Those essentially spiritual themes—even in this Islamic context—definitely weren't something I expected to find in a quirky comedy about wild-haired Bill Murray wandering through a Middle Eastern war zone.

But of course they're strafed by f-bombs and nasty sexual subjects. And that's no surprise at all in a quirky comedy about wild-haired Bill Murray wandering through a Middle Eastern war zone.

Pro-social Content

Objectionable Content

Summary Advisory

Plot Summary

Christian Beliefs

Other Belief Systems

Authority Roles

Profanity/Violence

Kissing/Sex/Homosexuality

Discussion Topics

Additional Comments/Notes

Episode Reviews

We hope this review was both interesting and useful. Please share it with family and friends who would benefit from it as well.

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