As wannabe singing stars Rogers
and Clarke sing in their main song,
telling the truth can be dangerous business… and the truth is that Ishtar is a pretty good film. I'm
sure many people are going to be foaming
at the mouth and announcing that this is the worst film "EVER!!!!" but
a lot of
the people who use Ishtar as the butt
of jokes have never actually seen the movie*.
It's a film that has been unfairly maligned since it was
has such a bad reputation that it wasn't even released on DVD in R1. Now Sony, in a bit of a perplexing move, I'll
admit, has released the film on Blu-ray without any extras but with a
looking transfer. If you only know the
film due to its reputation, seek it out and give it a spin. You'll be surprised to find a funny and
Lyle Rogers and Chuck Clarke (Warren Beatty and Dustin
Hoffman) are a pair of good friend who have bonded over the one true
both of their lives: writing songs. They truly know in their heart of hearts that
the tunes they pen are great, wonderful pieces and if they could only
break, they'd be as big as Simon & Garfunkel. The
only problem is that they're totally
wrong. Not only are they not great,
they're not even mediocre. The songs
that they write are astoundingly, tragically, and hilariously bad. Take their would-be masterpiece, Dangerous
Telling the truth can be dangerous business
Honest and popular don't go hand in hand
If you admit that you play the accordion
No one will hire you in a rock 'n' roll band
But we can sing out hearts out
And if we're lucky, then no neighbors complain
Because life is the way we audition for God
Let us pray that we all get the job.
After they have a repertoire of other such self-written
and Clarke realize that the one thing they need is an agent. Enter Marty Freed (Jack Weston), a small time
rep who can always find a job for Americans wanting to play in the Middle East. He
signs them and sends the pair on tour in Ishtar, a country under the
rule of a
brutal dictator that's on the edge of revolution. Once
there, the pair meet the attractive Shirra
who manages to get the not-too-bright Chuck to switch passports and
with her. It turns out that Shirra is
Ishtar's most-wanted revolutionary, but when CIA agent (Charles Grodin)
recruits Lyle to help preserve the current regime since it's in the
interests of the US to have a stable government, the two buddies find
themselves on opposite sides and in the middle of some very dangerous
It's a funny buddy comedy that gets a lot of things
right. Most comedy duos have a smart
half (Abbott, George Burns, Dick Smothers) and a dumb half (Costello,
Allen, Tommy Smothers). Not so with
Rogers and Clarke. This team has a dumb
half Clarke, and his even more clueless partner Rogers.
Like the Laurel and Hardy, the comedy arises
because neither of them have any idea how far off the mark their ideas
plans really are. The banter as they're
writing songs is great.
This film has been unfairly maligned since it was first
released. With an all-star cast and crew
it should have been a huge hit.
Writer/director Elaine May had written a lot of comedy gold and
nominated for an Academy Award (for Heaven
Can Wait ). This was Warren Beatty's
first film since winning the Oscar for Reds
(Best Direction, he was also nominates for Best Actor though he lost to
Fonda for On Golden Pond) and Dustin
Hoffman had mined comic gold in his previous theatrical film Tootsie.
They even managed to get two-time Academy Award winning
Storaro (Reds and Apocalypse Now… he
would win a third the
year that Ishtar was released for The
Last Emperor) to shoot the picture.
Paul Williams (who also had an Oscar along with a slew of other
along with input from May and Hoffman wrote the wonderfully horrid
songs. How could it go wrong?
The production was troubled, and it did go over budget.
The two stars were also paid plenty, and with
other notable bombs that had a lot to do with the bad press. I remember reading reviews when the film was
first released and being astonished that every one of them mentioned
the budget was ($40 million, which was a lot at the time).
It's not like ticket prices were raised because
of that, so it really shouldn't matter how much the studio was on the
but a film's high budget is a bludgeon that critics still use to this
Ultimately, this is a fun, but light movie that's not
perfect. The beginning of the film,
where Rogers and Clarke are in New York writing their songs and playing
mic nights, is hilarious and well worth the price of admission. Both stars play their roles with a
seriousness that adds to the comedy.
Rogers and Clarke have no clue that they suck, and that's want
movie. The picture does slow down a bit
once they get to Ishtar (in an homage to the old Bob Hope Bing Crosby The Road to… films they're originally
headed to Morocco)
and the CIA/Ishtar rebel plot plays out pretty predictable but it's
still a fun
That's the big problem that critics and audiences had back
in 1987: This is a fun, goofy
movie. It's not a sophisticated comedy
like The Graduate or a revealing satire that comments on American life,
something that would be fitting of such pedigreed stars.
It's just a decent movie that entertains and
provides for plenty of laughs. If the
same film were made with a couple of SNL alumni it would have received
reviews, but with an all-star team behind it, and a huge budget to
were just expecting more.
The film comes with 1.85:1 1080p image that preserves the
original aspect ratio. It actually looks
pretty good, especially for a 25 year old flick. The
colors are strong and the level of detail
is very good. I was expecting something
much worse than this.
The Blu-ray arrives with a 5.1 DTS-HA MA track as well as
the original mono track. The
multi-channel track that was constructed doesn't have a lot going on as
far as the
soundstage is concerned, but it's not bad.
The dialog is clear and easy to hear and there isn't any
Unfortunately, there is no bonus content. I
would have loved to hear writer/director
Elaine May discuss the film, but it's not really a big surprise that
didn't want to pony up the money for a commentary track.
No, this isn't a great film, but it's not anywhere near as
horrible as its reputation would lead you to believe.
A truly funny film that does stumble a bit at
the end, it's a decent flick that has some very good laughs. If you only know Ishtar from its status as a
horrible bomb, they you'll do well to check it out.
Chances are you'll be pleasantly surprised.
*In his book The
Complete Far Side, creator Gary Larson admitted that he
criticized the movie in one of his cartoons.
"When I drew the above cartoon, I had not actually seen Ishtar.
Years later, I saw it on an airplane, and was stunned at what was
me: I was actually being entertained. Sure, maybe it's not the greatest
ever made, but my cartoon was way off the mark. There are so many
which I should probably write an apology, but this is the only one
me to do so."