Rock The Kasbah

Director: Barry Levinson (2016)

A TV singing contestant tries to win hearts and minds in this confused and incompetent comedy.

It seems to have been began as a satire on American military abroad, retooled as a feel good celebration of the rise of Afghani feminism and sold as a wacky Bill Murray adventure.

Director Levinson has form with this sort of material. He directed Robin Williams’ energetic and mawkish turn as a wartime DJ in Good Morning Vietnam (1987). He’s also helmed the great satire Wag The Dog (1997).

Rock The Kasbah isn’t laugh out funny but amiable, well intentioned and has some enjoyable performances.

Murray stars as untrustworthy has-been rock manager Richie Lanz.

Offering flashes of his signature cynical charm,  the former Ghostbusters star is always watchable, even if a patchy script relies too heavily on his ad libbing.

Israeli actress Leem Lubany does as well as anyone could in the central if limited role of  Salima, a young singer risking dishonour and death by challenging the traditional role of women in a male dominated society.

Kate Hudson brings a sexy savvy to the thankless role of hooker turned business partner and lover of Richie.

And Danny McBride and Scott Caan are a likeable double act as black market munitions salesmen.

Playing a mercenary called Bombay  Brian, Bruce Willis seems to be there just to play with guns and seems to have wandered in from another movie.

Desperate to pay the bills, Richie takes his only client Ronnie – played by a Zooey Deschanel – on a tour of Afghanistan.

Suffering pre-gig nerves, Ronnie abandons Richie in Kabul, taking his passport and money with her.

While selling ammunition to friendly penniless tribesmen in a bid to raise the cash to get home, Richie  he discovers the beautiful Salima singing in a cave.

Richie signs her up and enters her into Afghanistan’s version of American Idol.

Rock The Kasbah is so clumsily constructed even its title is geographically inaccurate. And disappointingly the anthemic Clash song from which it presumably takes its name is never played.

The Forest

Director: Jason Zada (2016)

There’s a cabin in the woods and paranormal activity occurs in the fog, but this supernatural horror contains meagre thrills.

When American teacher Jess is presumed dead in a supposedly haunted Japanese forest, her twin sister Sara is convinced she’s alive and sets out to find her.

Natalie Dormer is great in both roles which allow her to be intelligent and resourceful, to howl like a banshee and in a brief flashback banter with herself.

She hooks up with Taylor Kinney’s expat journalist Aiden, and Yukiyoshi Ozawa’s Forest guide Michi who help her in her hunt.

Aokigahara Forest lies at the base of Mt. Fuji and is a location of ancient and mystical beauty.

Oozing atmosphere and flesh eating maggots by day, at night it’s a very crowded place indeed.

A shame the script couldn’t find something more ghoulish to populate it.