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DUSTIN HOFFMAN & WARREN BEATTY WANDER THROUGH 'ISHTAR'

Dustin Hoffman in ISHTAR Year: 1987 Rating: **

In one scene from the famously infamous 1987 mega-flop ISHTAR, a shy and introverted Warren Beatty admits that, in order to get women, he wished he looked more like Dustin Hoffman: which is funnier than anything else in the movie...

Both are straight men without comic relief (Beatty's sweet and stupid while Hoffman's stupidly confident), and there isn't a touch of humor to be found: Especially not in the muddled screenplay written by director Elaine May and centering on two awful lounge singers, Lyle Rogers and Chuck Clark, who don’t seem realistic enough to be genuine failures... 

Dustin Hoffman in ISHTAR with Charles Grodin

And since Hoffman's as gullible as he's obliviously cocky, once the pair's sent to ISHTAR for a few low-rent gigs, he quickly gets in hot water, falling for a burqa-clad yet still noticeably gorgeous Isabelle Adjani as Shirra, who... with the intensity of an actress in a drama... wants to free her people from tyranny, transporting an important map that everyone wants: Especially Charles Grodin’s nefariously polite Jim Harrison, a CIA Agent pulling Clark in another direction…

A subliminal (not subtle) villainous representative of the Reagan administration, Grodin's character never admits to actually being Right Wing... but if you added up how many times he refers to his enemy, Shirra, as “Left,” you’d run out of fingers and toes, making this a legitimate political comedy... That's the attempt, anyway... 

Warren Beatty in ISHTAR

Yet the first twenty minutes provide the most guilty pleasure, following an off-key venue prologue as the two Big Apple losers meet in an awkward flashback, writing songs together on a Casio keyboard – one tune in particular called DANGEROUS BUSINESS (which would have made a better title), coincidentally foretelling their misadventures to come: As a team, actors Beatty and Hoffman seem like two smug buddies showing off at a party for their rich friends: But theater audiences weren’t so patient or understanding…

And for a movie with such an immense budget, very little happens. The city scenes pan out in a series of jumbled edits (especially in the prolonged director's cut), and once the duo reach the desert… riding a blind camel and eventually squaring off against a CIA helicopter… the film seems both dragged out and rushed at the same time...

Dustin Hoffman in ISHTAR

Despite being a HEAVEN'S GATE-style punchline for cinematic catastrophes, ISHTAR (clumsily borrowing the archeologist-map side-plot from RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK) isn't as utterly horrible as the reputation implies... it's just plain dull, which kind of makes it worse...

Experiencing two big names... far too old to be wayward idiots seeking a career... flailing around without a coherent plot is embarrassing... Yet if the entire story centered on the duo trying to write a decent song in New York, it would be a lot more enjoyable: At least they (and the audience) would have something to strive for.

Warren Beatty with Cristine Rose and Julie Garfield in ISHTAR
Dustin Hoffman in ISHTAR
Dustin Hoffman in ISHTAR with Warren Beatty
Dustin Hoffman in ISHTAR
Isabelle Adjani in ISHTAR
Poster Art for ISHTAR
Dustin Hoffman and Warren Beatty in the main poster image, and if it's one thing ISHTAR has it cool artwork
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