Reviews: Ishtar

The Theatrical Cut: Believe the Hype

What a spiteful movie. I love my fair share of Beatty and Hoffman, but everything here reeks of being washed up. It opens, like any movie should, like a shitty open mic: the act is terrible, but you're supposed to applaud the foolishness of our singer/songwriter duo of Chuck and Lyle. A few breakups and a played-for-laughs suicide attempt later, the two head for fame and fortune in Morocco, only to end up as pawns for the CIA in between the Soviets, rebels, and oil. Because suicide and espionage are hilarious, right?

Despite its beautiful cinematography, Ishtar breaks down everywhere. What's originally an homage to Road to Morocco is destroyed through inane political satire. It feels like the most bizarre vanity project possible; a bunch of New York schlubs make it big. There's exotic women, desert, camels, AK-47's, and a big finish in a Casablanca bar. Find some way to glue it together. It's a dreadfully boring fantasy only a schlub can think of. Elaine May made a movie edited by a schlub committee to make schlub dreams come true. Because showing off that you're a schlub is the best comedy.

There's no doubt that excess ruined Ishtar. Against good intentions, May's perfectionism patches together so many unneeded details. Every grain of Saharan sand, every Paul Williams original song is dragged into making such a poorly-glued together farce. Every situation is shrugged off with ignorance or stupidity; the tunnel vision our leads have is beyond staggering. When schlub dreams come true, they still make little sense.

The whole exercise praises mediocrity. I sense a trend in horrid comedies from the 90's onward possibly pioneered in Ishtar with that schlub fantasy gimmick. Films like these command you not to laugh but lie prostrate, in awe of our foolish heroes as they extol their lack of worth and get covered in camel spit and worse. At least Ishtar had a pedigree, not that it mattered. Must to avoid.