Ishtar (1987)

DVD Cover (Columbia Tri-Star)
Genres: Adventure Comedy, Comedy
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Elaine May Elaine May
Warren Beatty Warren Beatty
Dustin Hoffman Dustin Hoffman
Isabelle Adjani Isabelle Adjani
Charles Grodin Charles Grodin
Jack Weston Jack Weston

4.4 / 10 - Overall Rating

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Review by bluemeanie
Added: September 28, 2007
Some people call it the worst box office disaster in cinematic history. Some call it the worst motion picture ever made. Some people would burn it in effigy. Oddly enough, those people have likely never seen the film. "Ishtar" was, indeed, a huge box office disappointment. It had two of the biggest stars in the world in lead roles and cost a reported $55 million dollars to make, and then brought in a bewildering $14 million dollars. Luckily, the film has taken on a kind of cult status, and over the years the film has managed to garner a considerable profit. So, when you look at "Ishtar", on the whole -- it's not nearly as bad as people make it out to be. Plus, it's funny. "Ishtar" is a good film that was probably just ahead of its time. So, leave this film alone. It's pretty damned solid.

The film stars Warren Beatty and Dustin Hoffman as Rogers and Clarke, a couple of horribly untalented lounge singers who travel to Morocco looking for gigs and accidentally stumble into a multiple party Cold War stand off. The film is about the way these two men becomes pawns between the CIA, the local Emir and a group of rebels trying to make their voices heard. The film also features some intentionally horrible lounge songs, composed by Paul Williams, with lyrical help from Dustin Hoffman and director Elaine May. These horrible musical numbers are part of what make this film so hysterical. Beatty and Hoffman deliver performances that are fantastic, and they really soak up the awful nature of just how bad their characters are supposed to be at what they do. Hoffman hasn't looked this carefree and seemed to have this much fun in ages. Actor Charles Grodin also has a very nice supporting performance in the film, while would have received more attention in a different film.

Personally, I can't see why people proclaim to hate this film so much, other than they've been lured into the Hollywood hype machine about how poorly the film performed. When you are hard-pressed to find a review that doesn't mention the film's box office performance, you have to think the entertainment business is not getting the big picture. "Ishtar" is a large scale production about a small scale comedy that works because it doesn't take itself too seriously and it never tries to do anything more than make the audience laugh. I am willing to bet that, when the film was released, there was a decent amount of laughter in the theatres, but people were propelled to bash the film because of what they heard. Who wants to be the only person to like a bad movie? The sweeping cinematography and the outlandish production design also add a sense of surrealism to this film. Just the fact that these men are playing a gig at the Ishtar Hilton is, in itself, a laugh riot.

And I must say -- it's nice to see actors defend their work. These days, when an A-list actor makes a film that performs poorly, they blame the director, the producers, the studio, the audiences -- everyone. "Ishtar" was a film that was universally loathed, and both Warren Beatty and Dustin Hoffman stick by the film and still proclaim it to be both hilarious and well directed. It's nice to see actors stick by what they think is quality work, and with this film, they are absolutely in the right. "Ishtar" was the film that pretty much destroyed the career of a very promising director, Elaine May, and she hasn't directed a feature film since. It is a shame that a film like this could destroy a career. I understand if a film is a box office disaster, but this woman had talent and promise and now she has a stigma that will never let her go. It's a real shame.

So, you can call me crazy if you want, but "Ishtar" is a good film. I am not going to say it's a masterpiece, but it's certainly ten times, a hundred times better than recent flops like "Marci-X", "Gigli" and "Cutthroat Island". Luckily for the film, when a film is this universally loathed, you're naturally going to attract a cult following of people who want to seek you out and "Ishtar" did just that. So, the film will live on in cinematic history in mostly bad ways, though I absolutely believe -- if the people the who spent so much of their time lambasting this film in 1987 actually saw the film -- it would have been a box office success. "Ishtar" is a very funny comedy, a well filmed epic and definitely a motion picture that deserves a little slack.

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