Richie Lanz (Bill Murray) is a rock music promoter and manager who claims to have discovered Madonna way back in the nineteen-eighties, or at least that's what he says to those he tries to represent. He is always on the lookout for new talent, but his standards are not very high and when he tells less than capable singers of how much potential they have, it's more like he is trying to persuade himself rather than them. One of the acts he represents is Ronnie (Zooey Deschanel), who has become his secretary after her career went nowhere but a regular gig or three in bars, so when one evening while she performs a man strikes up a conversation with Richie about the possibilities of a trip to Afghanistan, he is immediately interested...
Unfortunately for this movie, hardly anyone else was, and in spite of Bill Murray enjoying a national treasure status in more than one nation at the time, nobody thought watching him traipsing through the Middle East to find a few laughs was a good idea, and Rock the Kasbah bombed. It was a mark of how poorly thought out this was that while they called it after the Clash song, they were not only denied permission to use it, but they had to crowbar in a scene where a little girl pointed out there were no Kasbahs in Afghanistan because they were a North African thing, not an Asian thing. But this was a story rife with problems, chief among them that it simply did not have many good jokes. Or indeed any good jokes.
The film plodded along from scene to scene, as if reluctant to cut loose with the funnies because it had realised early on there wasn't much to laugh at in the Afghan conflict, and if they were going to have their fun they would have to really go outrageous, even over the top with bad taste, which seeing as how it wasn't the seventies anymore, they were not willing to do. Mitch Glazer was the man penning the screenplay, a veteran of comedy by this stage, and Barry Levinson was in the director's chair, but even combining their abilities with that of the not inconsiderable Murray failed to concoct anything but a succession of tired scenes where all concerned came across as if they just wanted a nice sit down.
They were not going to solve the crisis in the Middle East that way, though they did not appear to be keen to do that anyway, not because they didn't wish to see peace, but because like so many others they could not divine any solution. That mood of hopelessness pervaded the movie, no matter that it ended on a note of optimism, for that felt false and hollow, especially when you realised what they were trying to peddle. The impetus for the project had been the documentary Afghan Star, a work that offered a far clearer view of what the region was like than this could ever dream of, and the woman who emerged as the focus of great interest Setara Hussainzada. She was the first female on the singing show, and caused enormous controversy when she sang because she did a little dance for a few seconds.
This broadcast was enough to get her death threats from across the land, and she was forced to go into hiding, something that away from the stricter Islamic world looked unbelievable since it was so innocuous to their eyes. Quite how you would see this as the basis for laughter was a mystery, but here we were, and the character who was Setara's stand-in, Salima (Israeli actress Leem Lubany), did not help her case by not doing the little dance, and worse than that not singing in a manner that Afghans would have appreciated, nope, they have her trilling Cat Stevens songs as if she were Britney Spears (without moving). Apart from the fact that Stevens was only used because he was presumably the only celebrity Muslim the filmmakers expected their target audience to have heard of, this was a misrepresentation of a very serious plight for a brave (and perhaps foolhardy) individual, and smacked of the worst kind of compromise, not wishing to offend anybody when pushing a few boundaries might have done some good. It certainly didn't make it any more entertaining. Music by Marcelo Zarvos.