Two terrible lounge singers get booked to play a gig in a Moroccan hotel but somehow become pawns in an international power play between the CIA, the Emir of Ishtar, and the rebels trying to overthrow his regime.
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Alan J. Pakula
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Two terrible lounge singers get booked to play a gig in a Moroccan hotel but somehow become pawns in an international power play between the CIA, the Emir of Ishtar, and the rebels trying to overthrow his regime. Written by
The film began principal photography in October 1985, amidst high political tensions in North Africa. Israeli warplanes had just bombed Palestinian Liberation Organization headquarters in Tunis and, seven days later, the Palestine Liberation Front hijacked a cruise ship, the Achille Lauro, murdering a wheelchair-using elderly Jewish American, Leon Klinghoffer. The Moroccan military was fighting the Polisario Front guerrillas at the time as well. There were rumours Palestinian terrorists might try to kidnap Dustin Hoffman, and some locations had to be checked for land mines before shooting could begin. See more »
By the chandelier when Jim talks to the Emir. See more »
I am just old enough to remember the two movies of the same approximate era (1980s, anyway) that became synonymous with big-budget box office bombs: "Ishtar" and "Heaven's Gate."
At the time, "Ishtar" was considered so bad as to be unwatchable. It was skewered and vilified so strongly that the critics rapidly drove it out of the theaters. Few--including me--ever had the nerve to rent the movie.
It wasn't until roughly 10 years after its release that my in-laws introduced me to the comedic greatness that is "Ishtar." To this day when I tell friends and family that I love Ishtar, it is somewhat like saying, enthusiastically, "Hey, I just contracted leprosy!" Such is the stigma that still lingers with this film.
To the credit of critics, this is by no means a work of pure comedic genius.
The movie has essentially one theme that works--the effortless cluelessness of Lyle and Chuck as the world's worst songwriters--and this is exhausted almost completely within the first 30 minutes. Still, it is a totally knee-slapping hilarious 30 minutes. The meandering remaining plot that takes them to Morocco for a singing gig and leads them to become CIA "agents" is what cemented the bad taste in the mouth of critics for time immemorial. This theme by the end of the movie is rather re-treaded and worn-out. We kind of want Warren and Dustin to just shut up by then.
This second act suffers from a kind of Hope-Crosby wannabee syndrome, and the writing isn't up to the slapstick pedigree the movie had begun revealing quite hilariously in the first act. Considering this film came from the pen of Elaine May--of "Nichols and May" comedy duet fame--I would have expected more, but perhaps this movie spiraled out of her hands because of the oft-misunderstood first act. I could easily see studio test audiences handily rejecting it and thus twisting the movie's priorities out of whack.
Still, "Ishtar" shouldn't be brushed aside as a mere footnote in movie history. It is worth watching for its true hilarity and the performances of both Hoffman and Beatty.
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