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Tuesday, 25 April 2017

Retro Review: Ishtar (1987)

Cast: Dustin Hoffman, Warren Beatty, Charles Grodin, Isabelle Adjani
Genre: Action-Adventure Comedy
U.S Box Office Gross: over $14 million

Plot: Two terrible lounge singers get booked to play a gig in a Moroccan hotel, but somehow become pawns in an international power play between the CIA, the Emir of Ishtar, and the rebels trying to overthrow his regime 

'Long Remembered & Known For As A Box Office Turkey, Ishtar Isn't Completely Bad As Critics Say It Is'

A Spies Like Us comedy that has a sense of adventure akin to Romancing the Stone without much of the romance, Ishtar tanked due to foreseen negative comments, but more through the criticism of its budget spent on the film itself.

Chuck (Dustin Hoffman) is a middle-aged musician who writes terrible songs, yet dreams of becoming famous one day. Chuck meets Lyle (Warren Beatty) and a new musical partnership is formed. After landing a gig in Morocco, the pair are then embroiled into a tale of espionage involving a young woman.

Ishtar was Dustin Hoffman's second stint at comedy after Tootsie, 5 years on and it was lauded by critics as being terrible, as well as reviled and scorned. Ishtar is to Dustin Hoffman as Club Paradise is to Robin Williams: low-key comedy films bashed by critics, released during the mid-1980s set in warm locations with surrealist plots. In fact, most of the criticism was aimed at the amount of money spent on the production and the amount of money Hoffman and Beatty got paid for their roles.

Apart from some of the corny music, truthfully, I find there isn't much entirely wrong with this film; too often people jump on the bandwagon and buy into the critic's word for it when they say this movie sucks. This happens all the time; professional critical reviews, IMDb and Rotten Tomatoes scores infer that it is so crap, you or I should avoid it completely. Yet reviews and review scores are all subjective and all down to personal taste. It is only when you watch that film that one is able to form a proper opinion on it, that one is not swayed by other people's views. Is Ishtar perfect? No. Could it have been better? For sure. The middle of the film needed to be trimmed, because some of it was rather boring and it wasn't as amusing as I would have liked it to be. However, the blind camel was a hoot.

The pairing of Warren Beatty and Dustin Hoffman was peculiar at first, yet they assimilated into their roles well. Audiences in 1987 seemed to have a problem with these two playing against type; with regards to Hoffman, I am slightly baffled that they didn't buy him in a comedy, as they were more used to him playing dramatic and serious roles. Yet if they had watched and heard of 1982's Tootsie, then they would be aware that that was a comedy/romantic comedy where Dustin had to be funny and amusing, and in drag. & he did it successfully. Dustin is another one of those actors who could prevail in any genre of film. & here he was enjoyable and pleasant to watch, comedy-wise and I enjoy seeing that light-hearted nature of his characters through his performances.

Whilst it isn't amazing, Ishtar under the direction of Elaine May, who did The Birdcage and Primary Colors, is a film that doesn't pander to expectations; it was not a film destined to win awards, but rather to entertain and to exist for pleasure, though it's more like a guilty pleasure. It's quirky, it's different and whereas the humour and comedy could have been better, overall it's passable. Ishtar wasn't intended to be a serious drama and whilst a lot of people think it would have worked better as an adventure film without the corny singing, the plot is ideally suited for a comedy. Although the conception of it, as dry and subtle as it is, is muddled and flawed in places, Ishtar is somewhat of a light, unique film of its own making.

It most certainly is a movie that deserves multiple viewings to get the gist of what it is and the type of light-hearted film it evokes. 

Final Verdict:

Despite its bad and negative reputation, Ishtar joins the likes of Catwoman, Showgirls and so many other so-called bombs and outright terrible movies that I find to be not as completely horrific as the critics say it is, after viewing it myself. This is another case of how over-spending and critical disdain can ultimately destroy what is actually a pleasant film.

Ishtar does, however, fizzle out slightly during the last third, but that surreality, along with terrible songs and oddness carves this film its own nicheness. Ishtar may be awkward and bad, yet that badness is also intentional to the extent that it wasn't meant to be taken seriously. That, and it is also surprisingly watchable in places with unexpected goofy turns by Dustin Hoffman and Warren Beatty, as the clueless yet good-hearted musicians.

Dustin Hoffman has starred in far better movies than Ishtar, as well as given far better performances -, though his turn here made me wish he had obtained more light-hearted character roles and not just be known as a great dramatic actor that he is known as, throughout his career.

Branded and dubbed the worst film Dustin has ever starred in by professional movie critics, in truth, personally speaking, Ishtar is an at times misunderstood-yet flawed cult '80s comedy offering.


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