Tuesday, January 18

Listen to me: why Ishtar is not a bad movie | Films


IIt’s a rare movie bomb that is so catastrophic that it becomes synonymous with cinematic failure. Ishtar, Elaine May’s 1987 comedy about two musicians who become embroiled in a CIA plot in North Africa, is one of the lucky few.

Negative rumors followed the movie, made on a hugely inflated $ 51 million budget at the time, from troubled production to release. The poor box office (eventual losses amounted to about $ 40 million) followed wild criticism, typified by Roger Ebert writing that it was “a lifeless, massive and heavy exercise in failed comedy,” and Ishtar quickly became a sellout. A Far Side comic strip would depict the “video store from hell” as one that stores nothing but copies of the film. When Kevin Costner’s own Waterworld went derailed in the mid-1990s, the press derisively dubbed him “Fishtar,” a familiar form of Hollywood waste in the service of true creative madness.

Although it has high-profile fans (Tarantino and Scorsese are among them), Ishtar is a comedy whose biggest joke is still believed to be its own monumental failure. Yet 34 years away from the drama of his creation, Ishtar doesn’t play like the failure of legend.

Inspired by Bob Hope and Bing Crosby’s Road to… movies, Ishtar lives and dies for her partner Warren Beatty and Dustin Hoffman as Lyle Rogers and Chuck Clarke, two aging singer-songwriters convinced they may be the next Simon and Garfunkel. Unfortunately, Rogers & Clarke is such a heinous act that they can only book a concert at a hotel in Marrakech (was it that or a war-torn Honduras), and it is to the credit of two of the biggest movie stars of the time that they did not have done it. They only convince like losers without talent, but who commit themselves with so much enthusiasm and enthusiasm.

Hoffman, who had his break on The Graduate (directed by Elaine May’s former comedy partner Mike Nichols) and had a box office success with Tootsie, his last film immediately before Ishtar, is a surprisingly capable host of the farce of May. This leaves Beatty as Ishtar’s comic revelation, successfully playing against the guy and reputation to come across as the goofy, galloping sidekick to Hoffman’s diminutive womanizer. Accompanying us from wintry New York to scorching Morocco through the fictional nation of Ishtar, Lyle and Chuck form an adorably silly company, on the fly constantly inventing almost humble original tunes with silly titles like Wardrobe of Love and That a Lawn Mower Can. Do Everything. It could all have been a recipe for a petty blow to the deluded dreamers of the world, but May is too generous a humanist to treat any of her characters with ridicule.

Only the third woman to be inducted into the Directors Guild of America, Elaine May was an Oscar-nominated writer and director with three well-regarded characteristics to her name when she was hired to direct Ishtar; more than three decades later, he has yet to direct another. If Ishtar is not the perfect object that is his best work, The Heartbreak Kid of 1972, the film that may well turn out to be May’s last is still proof of the loss for the cinema that has been his absence. May always reveled in awkwardly human moments dating back to her Nichols and May days, and Ishtar is in his prime when Lyle and Chuck are putting on neurotic shows of themselves. One of the funniest and most poignant scenes in the movie shows Lyle trying to convince a suicidal Chuck from his apartment ledge by giving him the most depressing pep talk in the world (“It takes a lot of guts to have nothing at your age. .. most guys “would be embarrassed!”).

Beyond Beatty, Hoffman and May, Ishtar is perhaps best of all a showcase for the late Charles Grodin. Playing an amoral CIA agent who is only slightly smarter than the protagonists, Grodin is trustworthy and wildly deadpan in a role destined to portray the worst and arrogant of Reagan-era foreign policy. If the rest of the film is more unpredictable, Grodin lands in each of his scenes, whether he’s seducing a clueless Chuck into the agency payroll over a candlelight dinner or not directing a covert coup against two US citizens in the Ishtari desert. (“Just get out, we can still say we made a mistake”).

Undeniably hairy, with an anticlimactic third act in which a battle sequence deemed too expensive for spiral production was supposed to be, Ishtar doesn’t justify the same kind of breathless reassessment as Michael Cimino’s Heaven’s Gate, that other major cinematic failure. from the 1980’s, he submitted a few years ago. Still, what works in Elaine May’s fourth film equates to some of the best material produced by a brilliant but woefully unprolific filmmaker. It’s not a bad time, so Ishtar is instead something more common: a funny and personable little comedy that turned out to be very expensive.


www.theguardian.com

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