How did Ishtar make so little money? How did Ishtar win a Razzie? How is Ishtar not more famous? ‘Coz I’ll tell you this much, Ishtar is pretty great. I didn’t even know it was a massive flop, so at least its reputation has improved enough over the years that I didn’t know about it for bad reasons. I just didn’t really know about it all.
Dustin Hoffman and Warren Beatty play Chuck and Lyle respectively, two struggling songwriters and reluctant performers who are terrible at writing songs and only a little bit better at performing. The movie’s opening scene of the two trying to write a song together is hilarious. The amazingly bad lyrics that they more than once pronounce to better than anything Simon and Garfunkle ever wrote, only get funnier the more you hear them. The most repeated being, “Telling the truth can be dangerous business. Honest and popular don’t go hand in hand. If you admit that you can play the accordion, no one’ll hire you in a rock ‘n’ roll band”. Watching Hoffman and Beatty sing these words with a look of total seriousness and straight faced sincerity really is evidence of just how good they are as actors.
A flash back shows how the two met and how they’re dedication to song writing sees them both dumped by their girlfriends only a few months later. Single and desperate, they accept a residency singing to Americans in a Moroccan hotel lobby. Almost as soon as they land, they’re mixed up in plan to overthrow the government. A mysterious woman convinces Hoffman to give her his passport, Charles Grodin appears in all his awesome deadpan Grodininess as a CIA operative and the mysterious woman reappears every now and again to drag Hoffman and Beatty deeper into her world of espionage.
Instead of making them totally clueless to their predicament, Elaine May’s screenplay makes them fully aware of it almost immediately, but also fully ignorant of the real consequences. It’s the same kind of approach that made Matt Damon so funny in The Informant and the technique works just as well in Ishtar. Hoffman and Beatty see no problem with openly talking about the few facts they know in front of, and too anyone. The idea of them arguing about petty, everyday rivalries while world changing events happen around, or due to, them is nothing new, but they both know how to really make it work.
I’m glad I didn’t know it was a flop before I watched it. I’m glad I dint even know it was a comedy. I’ve seen Hoffman do some comedic stuff as he’s gotten older, and of course he was in Tootise, I just never expected this sort of broad comedy from him. Especially co-starring with Warren Beatty, who I think the only time I can remember him being funny or even showing a sense of humour was in an episode of The Larry Sanders Show. Seeing Hoffman and Beatty both deliver these really funny, goofball performances was such a great surprise that I think it made a solidly funny movie an outright hilarious one.
Budget $55million / U.S Box Office $14.3million
Worst Director – Elaine May
Instead of Ishtar, watch Ishtar. This move really is underappreciated. Give it a look.