Sunday, January 23, 2011

1987 - ISHTAR, is this funny?

Elaine May directing and writing a comedy inspired by the Bob Hope and Bing Crosby road films has a sense of humor so inside and weird it makes the Coen Brothers comedies look like sitcoms. 

Warren Beatty and Dustin Hoffman are aspiring untalented songwriters who get involved in middle eastern politics and intrigue all the while composing horrible but hilarious songs actually written by Paul Williams. For Ishtar, Paul Williams is working on a level so inspired it's awesome.  A partial list of the songs performed includes, "Wardrobe of Love, Half Hour Song, That A Lawnmower Can Do All That," and the immortal "Portable Picnic."

The film is very well cast, Jack Weston is their agent and Charles Grodin is a very goofy CIA agent.  Beatty's current girl friend at the time Isabelle Adjani was a classic French beauty. In a perverse sense of casting humor,  Elaine May has her play her part disguised as a boy throughout the film.  Warren Beatty and Dustin Hoffman were big stars at the time this film was made and it's fun to watch them  play a couple of fools. 

It's hard to convey the nutty nature of this film with its mix of bad songs, a blind camel and an incomprehensible plot line. 

The incredible weirdness of Ishtar was asking for trouble with film audiences and found it.  The film was a big box office disaster. Warren Beatty produced the film hoping to keep the eccentric Elaine May under control.  He failed, this film is funny but very strange.

107 minutes

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