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'Rock the Kasbah' is a parade of the star's greatest hits

(Video) 'Rock the Kasbah' Movie Trailer: A hapless music promoter discovers a talented singer and takes her to Kabul to compete on the popular show, 'Afghan Star.'

'Rock the Kasbah'

Run time: 1 hour 40 minutes

Rating: R

Stars: Zooey Deschanel, Kate Hudson, Bill Murray, Bruce Willis

Director: Barry Levinson

The primary reason to see Rock the Kasbah is the chance to spend an hour or so in the affable company of Bill Murray.

For many of us, that's plenty reason enough.

Rock the Kasbah is a meandering, good-hearted road picture that envisions Murray as Richie Lanz, a down-on-his-luck music promoter who's trying to make one late-career killing, even if it occurs somewhere in the wilds of Afghanistan.

In fact, this time around we get many Bill Murrays for the price of one. We first encounter Murray as an unrepentant hustler in full-on Ghostbusters mode. He's working out of a cheap L.A. motel room-cum-office, exploiting the dreams of untalented American Idol wannabes by charging them retainer fees. But opportunity knocks when a USO tour booker invites Richie and his one legitimate act (Zooey Deschanel, who comes and goes pretty quickly here) to perform a series of shows in and around Kabul.

'Rock the Kasbah'

Kerry Brown/Courtesy of Open Road Films

Bill Murray plays a music promoter, who discovers an extraordinary voice in 'Rock the Kasbah.'

It doesn't take long for the whole endeavor to go south, and soon Richie washes up on the streets of Kabul — penniless, passportless and pursued by a stone-cold soldier of fortune (Bruce Willis, doing his steely-eyed crazy-guy thing). This is Murray in Stripes mode, his semi-stoner persona flowing like mercury across the craggy shell of a no-nonsense military type.

Events dump Richie in a little spot that would be called a backwater if there was any of the stuff within 100 miles. There he overhears a sweet teenage girl who's singing along to a classic Cat Stevens recording. Recognizing her as the Next Big Thing, he decides to take her back to Kabul to compete on the Afghan equivalent of American Idol. This is Murray in St. Vincent mode, his gruff exterior being thawed by the radiance of an innocent. Somewhere along the line, Richie finds time to take up with a hooker with a heart of gold (Kate Hudson), conjuring fond memories of Murray's similar — if far more platonic — fling with Scarlett Johansson in Lost in Translation.

Finally, Richie attempts to endear himself to the girl's warlord father. At a village campfire, he grabs a musician's rebab and, wielding it like an electric guitar, launches into an impromptu rendition of Deep Purple's "Smoke on the Water." In this scene we are revisiting Murray as Nick Ocean, the lounge singer from his Saturday Night Live days. Good thing — it's the film's best moment.

Whew! That's almost more Bill Murrays than we met in Groundhog Day, but they suffice to propel Rock the Kasbah to its sentimental conclusion. You'll quickly understand the wisdom of legendary director Barry Levinson's decision to abandon any sense of structure and let Murray do any damned thing he wanted to.

Cinema purists may quibble. For the rest of us, the Murray the merrier.

Bill Newcott is a writer, editor and movie critic for AARP Media.