Take a Drink: any time Clark and Rogers sing a song
Take a Drink: any time Clark and/or Rogers are fooled by someone
Drink a Shot: each time Warren Beatty’s accent changes between “country” and “brain damaged”
By: Oberst Von Berauscht (Six Pack) –
Lyle Rogers (Warren Beatty) and Chuck Clark (Dustin Hoffman) are a duo of aspiring singer-songwriters who are trying to make it in New York City. The two are huge Simon and Garfunkel fans, and want nothing more than to be the next big thing. Fortunately; what the two lack in musicianship, singing voices, ability to write songs, and luck, they make up for in commitment.
Finally booking a paying gig through a seedy manager, Clark and Rogers venture to Morocco, where through their own stupidity they get tangled up in a web of deceit, in a conspiracy involving the CIA and the Emir of the neighboring nonexistent, but real-sounding country of Ishtar.
Ishtar was an infamously unsuccessful film in the box office, failing to make up even a third of its $51,000,000.00 budget. For years it was unavailable on DVD, due mostly due to lack of interest. After viewing it for the first time this afternoon, I can say that this obscurity is totally warranted.
The film’s only saving grace is the inherent amiability of longtime friends Dustin Hoffman and Warren Beatty, who are hard to hate in any setting (though this film makes a really strong case)
The concept which the film hinges on is that Beatty and Hoffman’s characters are bad singers and worse songwriters. And writer Paul Williams delivered in droves with a list of some of the most horrifically terrible songs you’ve ever heard. The problem with this premise is that bad music is bad in any setting. Some good laughs are had early in the film’s opening sequence, but once the viewer realizes they are stuck with these same bad jokey songs for the rest of the film, interest is quickly lost.
The fact that the Clark and Rogers team think they have what it takes to make it in showbiz is unconvincing at best. They are so aggressively untalented as singers and writers that it becomes impossible (even by the standards of a silly comedy film) to believe that anybody would hire them for any gig whatsoever. The film might have worked better if they displayed a modicum of talent and no polish, or at least might have been easier to watch.
Reportedly director Elaine May had wanted the film to be her tribute to Bob Hope and Bing Crosby’s “Road” movies. The film’s storyline is where things fall even further down the rabbit hole. This kind of story might have worked in the 1940’s, however, by 1987 the world of comedy had changed. The film attempts to borrow from then-current events to try to make the film relatable, but instead it ends up clashing with the archaic sensibilities inherent in these movies.
For a film that cost $50,000,000.00, the climax of the film is a horribly shot and even more terribly edited sequence involving a couple helicopters approaching Clark and Rogers, who have a cadre of weapons at their disposal. This “battle” sequence results in nothing more than bruised egos and random explosions. For a film on a scale as large as this, I was at least hoping for something more epically staged. One gets the feeling this whole thing was a big tax write-off, or money-laundering scheme.
Once Clark and Rogers wander off into the desert, be prepared to spend the rest of the film looking at the same dull scenery. How could a film with an Oscar-caliber cinematographer like Vittorio Storaro (Apocalypse Now, Last Tango in Paris, Reds) manage to feel so dull-looking and flat? Ask director Elaine May; who reportedly fought with Storaro tooth and nail about camera placement. It is apparent that she took very little advice from her cinematographer, because the film which should otherwise have been sweeping and epic in scale ends up feeling small. The vast desert scenery of the film could have been done as workably on a soundstage, if she had been so inclined to look cheap.
I’m tired of writing about this miserable sit of a film, so I’ll let the masters do their work:
“They’re [Beatty and Hoffman] laughing, and we’re not, and that’s insulting”- Gene Siskel
“Their songs are pathetic, I mean, I know they were trying to make them sound bad, but they succeeded all to well”- Roger Ebert