Ishtar Blu-ray Review

When the topic of box office bombs come up, ISHTAR inevitably is brought up quickly. A bloated budget and personality conflicts seemingly doomed this project before it even opened. I didn’t see this film when it opened in 1987. Now I see why. This is one uninspired comedy that does very little right. It’s a shame because it does seem like the actors are trying to make it work.


Dustin Hoffman plays Chuck and Warren Beatty is Lyle. They are a songwriting team in the vein of Simon and Garfunkel. The only problem is that they are dreadful in writing and dreadful in singing. That is a deadly combination when you are trying to make it in the music business. Things go so badly that both their significant others leave them. But there is hope on the horizon. Their agent gets them a paying gig. The only problem is that it is in Morocco for little money.


Now this is where the hilarity should be taking off. It never really does. Before the duo gets to their destination, a mysterious map is found in neighboring Ishtar. The man who found the map is killed while talking to his sister on the phone. The map is so unbelievably silly. It would have made for a better story if you could believe that this single item could cause unrest in the Middle East. Director/Screenwriter Elaine May doesn’t even try in this regard. This is like a plot point that was thrown in at the last moment to beef up the running time.


The story gets even more convoluted as we go along. Chuck and Lyle both meet Shirra (Isabelle Adjani), the aforementioned sister of the slain man. She is looking for the map that is so important to the suppressed in Ishtar. The US government also is on the lookout for this historical piece. The Emir of Ishtar is not a friend of Lybia, so he is helping out the US. The enemy of my enemy is my friend is the saying that goes here.

Chuck is approached by CIA operative Jim Harrison (the always excellent straight man Charles Grodin) to do some low level spying. Jim is basically trying to get the map to soothe the concerns of the Emir. Meanwhile Shirra enlists Lyle on a similar quest. Both scenarios require secrecy. Chuck tries to keep his CIA work away from Lyle and Lyle tries to keep his conversations with Shirra away from Chuck. This leads to an extended period where each person knows what the other is doing, but doesn’t confront them about it. It’s painful to watch. The work by Lyle and Chuck gets them in real danger as all the various groups at one time or another try to kill them. I gather we are supposed to laugh at the ineptitude of the assassins, but the action doesn’t stretch far enough into farce territory.


While all this going on, Chuck and Lyle do score at the Chez Casablanca. The name may be the cleverest thing going in the film. Hoffman and Beatty try to lift this material. It is the goofiest I’ve seen them and they don’t hold back. I must scold Beatty however for his lousy Southern accent which comes and goes like the wind. It never should have been attempted. That is just one of the many distractions in ISHTAR. Another one is how much Adjani is wasted here. She is a multiple Oscar nominee and she is given little to do. Most of the time she is dressed as a man to evade the bad guys. There’s a running gag where both Chuck and Lyle find out she’s a woman in much the same way.


Comedy is definitely subjective and tastes are different for each individual person. I just found ISHTAR to be incredibly stupid. May could have made the original songs funny in a bad way. No they are just plain bad. One scene really stands out and serves as a reminder that the movie fails. Chuck is put in a bad position where arms dealers think he is the auctioneer and can speak the language of the natives. Chuck just speaks jibberish and is helped out by Lyle in trying to sell the con. It is truly embarrassing how the scene plays out. It simply isn’t funny.

ISHTAR deserves the wraith that it got. I did chuckle here and there, but that clearly is not enough. If you missed ISHTAR the first time, you didn’t miss much.


Video: The film is presented in high definition 1.85:1 format. The video feels compressed though. I didn’t like the transfer at all.

Audio: Everything is clear and audible.

Previews-This is the only extra on the Blu-ray. That’s it. It would have been nice to hear from the director or the two stars about the film and the difficulties making it. Maybe a small feature from any of the critics that gave it a good review would have been the way to go. Any extra would have been appreciated. This is a wasted opportunity and could have been a showcase for people to defend this reviled film.


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