Ishtar (1987)


Bil’s rating (out of 5):  B

USA, 1987.  Columbia Pictures Corporation, Delphi V Productions. Screenplay by Elaine May.  Cinematography by .  Produced by .  Music by .  Production Design by .  Costume Design by .  Film Editing by , , .  

Those expecting this movie to have unfairly garnered its reputation should be warned: it truly is as bad as you’ve heard, if not worse. Dustin Hoffman and Warren Beatty play broke, desperate songwriters who accept a gig in Morocco because they need the cash. On the way there a chance encounter with a mysterious beauty (Isabelle Adjani) at Ishtar’s airport leads to them getting between her and a super trained CIA agent () involved in the overthrow of the city’s Emir. Fantastic plot is undone by incredibly lazy direction by Elaine May, who takes what feels like years to get the ball rolling by spending far too much time developing a plot that could zip by without as much exposition as it gets. What really hurts it is the casting, as Beatty and Hoffman are far too detailed as performers to really fly in a film about major goofballs; they really look like they know they’re too smart for this sort of thing, and that lack of disbelieved suspension makes it impossible to get through. The film’s box office results (which were virtually no return on a huge budget) have since made the title synonymous with failure of the highest order. May has yet to direct again, though she’s continued in her success as a writer with films like The Birdcage and Primary Colours.


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