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USA 1987
Directed by
Elaine May
103 minutes
Rated PG

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
3.5 stars


Ishtar is often cited as one of modern Hollywood's costlier flops, not that you can see the money (allegedly $US80m) on the screen, except for the stars, Dustin Hoffman, Warren Beatty, who got $6m each for their troublei. A kind of anachronistic Crosby and Hope Road To.... movie,  the director's script is funny in a squirm-inducing way, with Beatty (who apparently once worked as a cocktail pianist) and Hoffman dorkily wonderful as Rogers and Clarke, the worst singer-songwriter team in the world, replete with de rigeur 80s fashion sense in the case of Hoffman and no dress sense whatsoever in the case of Beatty. 

Paul Williams obliges with some marvellously awful songs to which May also contributed. May who also had an unhappy experience with her previous film Mikey & Nicky continued to act in and write films after this but has not directed another film since. One can see how the film went wrong -  Isabelle Adjani was not just a poor choice for the lead female but her character is too much of a throwaway, and whilst she represent the film's weakest link, the whole North African section has a tackily kitsch quality (it was lensed by ace DOP, Vittoria Storaro who had shot Beatty's Reds and, perhaps again because of Beatty, this film shot on location in Tunisia) that tends to overwhelm the humour including, the wry digs at Reagan administration involvement in Third World politics.

I suspect that for America, irony doesn't work for the mainstream and the film's tongue-in-cheek humour simply was not understood. It is however a much under-rated comedy that hopefully will one day be recouped.  




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