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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
If ISHTAR had starred Steve Martin and Chevy Chase, been directed by John Landis and shot for $10 million on a Hollywood sound stage, I think people would have enjoyed it for what it is, a sophomoric, silly road movie.
However, it stars Warren Beatty and Dustin Hoffman, and was directed by Elaine May, a trio of actors and filmmakers who were known for comedy classics as HEAVEN CAN WAIT, THE HEARTBREAK KID and TOOTSIE. Therefore, people expecting to see the most brilliant American comedy of all time were shocked and appalled when, instead, they got a glorified Cheech and Chong movie.
Is this fair? Yes and no. ISHTAR definitely falls flat at times. There are some curiously lifeless moments and awkward scenes that reek of last minute re-editing. The movie is far from perfect. But it is often very funny, and features two terrific, underrated performances from Beatty and Hoffman.
Watching Beatty play such a well meaning dim-wit is a real treat. And Hoffman is just as good playing an equally dense, overly self-assured jerk. Elaine May and Paul William's intentionally awful songs are hilarious as well. People who criticize the quality of the songs or Beatty and Hoffman's vocal talent are obviously missing the joke, as both are SUPPOSED to be bad.
A pre-obnoxiously conservative Charles Grodin adds plenty of laughs as a CIA agent, while Isabelle Adjani does well in a deceptively complex role, which requires her to play it totally straight while engaged in completely ludicrous scenes with Beatty and Hoffman.
Beatty and Hoffman's interaction while trapped in the desert is classic. One of the movie's funniest moments involves the wind kicking up after they have been told by Adjani that "there is no wind in the desert". Hoffman asks, "Is the wind blowing?" Beatty answers, "This must be one of those once in a lifetime things, like the glaciers melting." If you don't find that funny, you'll hate this movie.
But if dry, silly humor is your cup of tea, and you can view a movie without being overly distracted by it's star power, then you just might enjoy ISHTAR. It doesn't always work, but I found it to be pretty funny, with a fair amount of really great laughs. Considering the barrage of moronic, unfunny Hollywood comedies that have come and gone in it's wake, ISHTAR should be considered a triumph.
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