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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
For the most part, films that bomb badly usually deserve to, but Ishtar is a curious exception. For the life of me, I cannot understand the critical drubbing it took upon its initial release. Admittedly, it did go way over budget, and none of that opulence is visible on screen (the film has a murky and washed out look to it, and its sets and locales are not particularly impressive) but this is a comedy after all, and so lives or dies based on the quality of its jokes and situations, not its production design. And on that level Ishtar not only gets by but succeeds wonderfully.
Beatty and Hoffman play two dim bulbs who fancy themselves songwriters and pair up in an attempt to become the next Simon and Garfunkel. The tortured lyrics these guys come up with must be heard to be believed, and the scenes showing them working on their songs or presenting their act to audiences are some of the most screamingly funny ever committed to film. If for no other reason than to see these scenes, you should rent the movie.
Perhaps the film might have been funnier (and better accepted by critics) if it had focused exclusively on the show business dreams of its stars. However, early on the two get a booking to play an extended gig in Morocco (that alone should tell you how bad they are); they get waylaid in the fictional Middle Eastern country of Ishtar where they become inadvertently roped into a shady CIA dominated plot having something to do with rebellions, arm shipments and military coups. It's all rather hokey and confusing - but deliberately so, in the best screwball sense. And through it all Hoffman and Beatty truly shine: the bafflement on their faces and in their gestures as they are shepherded from place to place as dupes in a plot they don't understand is just priceless. Who would have thought that two such intelligent actors could play stupid so convincingly (either one of them, for example, would have made a preferable sidekick to Jim Carrey than Jeff Daniels was in Dumb and Dumber - his performance showed all the strain of a bright guy trying to force himself into a pose of ineptitude). Even more, who would have imagined that two such prima donnas could put their egos aside to work off each other so well and become a truly great comedy TEAM? No matter how crazy the plot may get, Hoffman and Beatty are never less than a delight as they hold down the center of the film.
Oh yeah, and if that weren't enough, there's also the treat of the wonderfully droll and deadpan Charles Grodin as the CIA operative in Ishtar. He's the villain of the piece, but his beautifully underplayed exasperation at the exploits of the two stars makes you like him almost as much as you do them.
So what are you waiting for? If you like a good, well done comedy with sharp performances and a kooky atmosphere, check out Ishtar today. Don't allow all those sourpuss, stone-faced critics to ruin your fun.
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