Bill Murray once again plays a role tailor-made to his keen comic sensibilities in “Rock the Kasbah,” an amusing tale about a over-the-hill rock tour manager who’s seeking redemption in the unlikeliest of places. Murray is great as usual, even though the plot of the film – grounded in the plight of a real Afghan woman – is hopelessly contrived.
Murray stars as Richie Lanz, who finds a silver lining in a very dark cloud over his doomed music management career when he gets an invite to bring his last client, Ronnie (Zooey Deschanel) to play a USO tour in Afghanistan. Once Richie and Ronnie get there, though, they find bombs going off and talk of getting body armor if they want to stay safe. Freaking out, Ronnie steals Richie’s money and passport and secures a trip to Dubai, leaving the down-on-his-luck tour manager stranded in Kabul with no means of getting out anytime soon.
Richie’s fortunes change, though, when he meets a couple of shady American arms dealers (Scott Caan and Danny McBride), who send him on a mission to sell ammunition to a tribal leader who is trying to protect his people from rivals. By happenstance, Richie stumbles across the tribal leader’s daughter, Salima (Leem Lubany) singing in a cave in the desert, where she dreams of being on the country’s televised singing competition “Afghan Star.” Richie wants to get Salima there, but he’s going to have to be creative because the country’s culture forbids women from singing and dancing in public.
While it’s not nearly as funny or poignant as Murray’s stellar dramedy “St. Vincent” from last year, “Rock the Kasbah,” ably directed by Barry Levinson, is still a good comedy that will please fans of the legendary funnyman. He’s aided by a fantastic supporting cast, including Kate Hudson as an enterprising American hooker building up a nest egg in Kabul, as well as Bruce Willis as a hard-nosed mercenary who helps Murray out of some serious jams. Lubany also shines as the would-be Afghan singing star, even though the plot comes off as highly implausible.
Thankfully avoiding any sort of political commentary (which you would expect given the film’s Afghan war setting) “Rock the Kasbah” works, if anything, as a rock ‘n’ roll fantasy. You just know Murray would never survive these sorts of circumstances in the real world, but as Richie Lanz, he rocks the house.
“The Last Witch Hunter” (PG-13) 1 1/2 stars (out of 4)
Fresh off the blistering success of “Furious 7,” Vin Diesel’s latest star vehicle, the supernatural action adventure “The Last Witch Hunter,” hits the wall even before the movie has a chance to get revved up.
Diesel stars as Kaulder, a medieval axe and sword slinger who is cursed to live forever by a powerful witch in the 13th century in the film’s prologue. The bulk of the movie, though, is set 800 years later, when a long-dormant coven made up of the most evil witches and warlocks threaten to emerge and wreak havoc on the world, and only Kaulder and a pair of priests (the always great Michael Caine and Elijah Wood) can stop them.
Without the type of insane “Furious” car stunts and action sequences to distract the audience, Diesel’s limited acting range becomes painfully obvious in “The Last Witch Hunter.” While he appears to be an affable actor, Diesel’s delivery in “The Last Witch Hunter” is horribly a one-note performance, and the run-of-the-mill creature effects that creep up throughout the film aren’t much better.
In a movie that has no sense of humor about itself (a key to the “Furious” franchise’s success), Diesel, for the lack of better words, is running on fumes. He needs to get back on the “Furious” trek – and fast – if his career is to going to last.
All engines are a go in “Furious Seven,” the seventh installment in Vin Diesel and Paul Walker’s blockbuster “The Fast and the Furious” film franchise. Instantly throwi
ng any sense of logic out the window, the hot-rod movie is as dumb as a box of rocks, yet revels in every second of its ridiculousness. That’s because as implausible as it is throughout its exhausting 137-minute run-time, “Furious Seven” is also outrageously entertaining.
The premise of “Furious Seven” is fairly straightforward: A lethal, ex-British Special Ops soldier, Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham), is out for revenge after the loss of his brother — and he wants to make Dominic Toretto (Diesel) and the mercenary crew responsible pay with their lives. Toretto and company (Walker, Michelle Rodriguez, Tyrese Gibson and Chris “Ludacris” Bridges”), however, can stop Shaw in his tracks if they can locate a high-tech terrorism device called “God’s Eye,” which can locate any person on the planet in an instant.
Also back for “Furious Seven” is Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, but his appearance really only bookends the movie as the franchise introduces Kurt Russell as Mr. Nobody — a shady, whimsical government heavy who hires the crew to locate the rogue computer device.
As big as Diesel, Walker and company have become thanks the franchise, the true stars of “Furious Seven” are the muscle cars and souped-up vehicles that scream across the film’s international scenery, purposely drive off cliffs and soar though one skyscraper in Dubai to the next. Above all is a wild sequence where Toretto and his crew parachute their vehicles into a heavily-guarded foreign territory, proving that the sky, truly is the limit for the film’s dizzying action sequences.
While classified an action crime drama, “Furious Seven” is often laugh-loud funny with its hammy dialogue and over-the-top, clichéd, 80s action movie-like macho characters. It has a so-bad-that-it’s-good quality that’s completely infectious. In fact, the only sense of seriousness the film has is when the late Walker shows up on the screen, reminding us of the tragic accident that took his life in November 2013.
Naturally, there’s a highly emotional send-off for Walker at the film’s conclusion, as director James Wan strings together a tear-jerker flashback scene recounting his appearances in all the “Fast and Furious” movies. Even more beautiful is how Wan constructed a lyrical exit for Walker from the series that couldn’t be any more appropriate as the film franchise heads down new roads.
Tim Lammers is a veteran entertainment reporter and a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association, and annually votes on the Critics Choice Movie Awards. Locally, he reviews films for “KARE 11 News at 11” and various Minnesota radio stations.
Like his acclaimed role as the anti-hero, Merle Dixon, in “The Walking Dead,” Michael Rooker is finding himself in the middle again – but this time he’s a blue-skinned alien in Marvel Studio’s “Guardians of the Galaxy,” light years away from the zombie-infested, post-apocalyptic Earth of the popular AMC series.
Rooker’s “Galaxy” character, Yondu, is interesting in that he’s not an out-an-out bad guy, and in some ways, he has a propensity to be good. Walking that fine line is something Rooker, 59, has not only enjoyed in several projects throughout his storied career, but his whole life, and director James Gunn wanted to tap into that experience.
“James wanted to write something for me that I’m good at — I’m good at doing bad things and still having people like me,” Rooker told me, laughing, in a recent interview. “Even as a 10- or 12-year-old, I’d be doing something bad, like climbing trees, and people would yell at me for doing it yet be smiling at the same time. I never understood what was going on with them. The great thing is, it still happening. James wanted to me to have the ability to say and do anything on screen and still have people like me, and dig the performance and dig the way I do it.”
Rooker brings a good ol’ boy approach to Yondu, a space pirate who takes Peter Quill from Earth as a young boy after his mother’s death. After growing up and learning the ways of Yondu’s group, the Ravagers, Quill (Chris Pratt) betrays his mentor and keeps for himself a mysterious orb he’s stolen from a powerful space lord, only to learn the sphere holds powers far greater than he ever could have imagined.
Like his fellow “Galaxy” cast mates (including Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Bradley Cooper and Vin Diesel), Rooker has the unenviable task of portraying a beloved character whose origins date back more than four decades in the original Marvel comic books. And while he respects the fan’s opinions, Rooker said it was a necessity to make changes with the character of Yondu for the sake of the film.
“I don’t really worry about all of the reactions, but of course, it’s always there in the back of my head,” Rooker said. “I know there will be some people who will be disappointed that Yondu doesn’t have a big fin on the top of his head, but they have to realize the roof on my spaceship is pretty low. I would have had to duck when I was walking around for the entire production. The change was decided before I got there, and basically I had to take what was in the script and run with it.”
For anyone familiar with his character in “The Walking Dead,” Rooker has been the subject of makeup artists before as a zombified Merle, so he knew was he was in for to turn Yondu blue.
“We’d start with a three hours of makeup, then we had a little break for food before more makeup and wardrobe, so in total, it was about five-and-a-half hours each time,” Rooker recalled. “That’s not so bad. For my role in ‘Slither’ (a 2006 horror comedy, which was also directed by Gunn), it took seven hours to put on and two-and-a-half to take off. Yondu’s makeup only took 45 minutes to take off.”
And while extensive makeup is a part of the job that some actors dread, Rooker said he loves the process and has absolutely no complaints about it.
“When I go to work, I get to go to a set. It’s like a 12-year-old kid saying goodbye to his parents, running out the door and playing all day long, and coming back for supper at night,” Rooker enthused. “That’s my life now. When I go to the set, it’s like going to a playground and doing all kinds of stuff.”
And lucky for Rooker, those sets have been filled with a variety of roles in several different genres.
“With ‘Guardians’ I get to be a blue alien who whistles to use a great weapon. In ‘Eight Men Out’ I got to play baseball all day long and on ‘Days of Thunder’ I got to drive race cars. In ‘Henry (Portrait of a Serial Killer)’ I got to kill people,” Rooker said with a laugh. “You get to use your imagination all these sorts of crazy, creative ways. Some ways are quite dramatic, some are hokey and some are fun. You just get to go everywhere.”
Original Interviews, Reviews & More By Tim Lammers