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Bill Murray's Zany Rock the Kasbah Lacks Humor, Heart 

Kasbah does everything but rock

I invited a friend to the press screening of Rock the Kasbah, the new Bill Murray agent-in-a-strange-land comedy directed by Barry Levinson, opening Friday at theaters everywhere.

And after it had finished, he advised me (my friend did) that instead of writing a traditional review, I ought to type the word "poop" over and over again, or for that matter just once, to signify its worth. He was so disgusted by the movie in its immediate aftermath that he said he'd have a hard time naming five he liked less.

For my part, having suffered through the indignities of Jennifer Lopez's The Boy Next Door, the Wachowskis' epic monstrosity Jupiter Ascending, the charmless Reese Witherspoon "comedy" Hot Pursuit, and Get Hard, that Ferrell-Hart carnage of anal yucks, I thought of four off the top of my head that I liked less in 2015 alone.

But it's true Rock the Kasbah is garbage pretty much from start to finish. Though you can depend on Murray for a few quality chuckles, the movie at large suffers from the twin box-office ailments of being neither entertaining nor true. It's a rudderless, mad-cap Afghani adventure that's content to appropriate whatever it pleases — unrest in the Middle East and women, notably — for cheap laughs.

Murray is Richie Lanz, a rock-tour agent purported (repeatedly) to have "magic ears." He discovered Madonna, he tells anyone who will listen, while she was singing on a street corner. But his name-dropping has yielded little professional success, and at the movie's outset, his one beacon of hope is booking cover singer Ronnie Smyler (Zooey Deschanel) as an opening act on a USO tour of Afghanistan.

Don't get too attached to Smyler though, or her antics, for the amount her presence impacts the story at hand is zero. She immediately ditches Lanz, and he thereafter meets her smuggler (Bruce Willis) and two American black-market munitions salesmen (Danny McBride and Scott Caan), who drive Lanz through Kabul, flicking off armed guards as they smoke weed and return fire, and then cut him a deal: They'll give Lanz wads of cash (from a crate overflowing with such wads) and a temporary U.S.passport if he'll deliver some bullets to a village three hours south.

It's there, in this woebegone tribal desert village, while negotiating the sale of the bullets, that Lanz's magic ears alight on the voice of the chieftain's daughter Salima (Leem Lubany, who delivered a quiet knockout in 2013's Omar), secretly playing guitar and singing Cat Stevens in a cave.

Providence hereby strikes after nearly two-thirds of the film has transpired, but it's here that we stumble upon our plot. Lanz wants to take young Salima to Kabul and put her in front of TV audiences nationwide on Afghan Star, the national equivalent of American Idol. Notwithstanding the strict dictates of Salima's family and culture and country, to say nothing of the fact that Afghan Star appears already to be in the midst of its season's quarterfinals, Lanz books Salima with ease. His negotiating strategy consists of offering people percentages of upcoming merchandising deals.

But he must continue negotiating after he learns of a secret plot, orchestrated by both the arms dealers and a warlord eager to kickstart the region's heroin trade, and must put out a handful of very serious fires if he wants Salima to win big.

Whether or not he does want that, and why, remain anybody's guess. Something to do with the sanctity of the agent-client relationship? Perhaps that's why Kate Hudson has been written in as a famous prostitute named "Mercy": to distract the older white males, for whom the film seems to have been exclusively made, from worrying about the plot.

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