Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Ishtar

Year 9, Day 4 - 1/4/17 - Movie #2,504

BEFORE: It occurs to me that even with 2,500 films viewed over the course of the project, I haven't watched that many films starring Warren Beatty.  Before last night, I believe it was only 4 - "Bugsy", "Bulworth", "Heaven Can Wait", and "Splendor in the Grass".  But it's not really my fault, he's one of those people who is super-famous, yet somehow has only been in a handful of films over the years - I keep trying to come up with a term for such an actor, but I can't seem to coin one.  If you discount TV shows, Beatty only has 23 films listed on his IMDB page - some of which are extremely high-profile, of course, like "Bonnie and Clyde" and "Dick Tracy", but for some actors, it seems somehow like less is more, almost like they're respected for making as few great films as possible.

Well, I'm adding three Warren Beatty films to my list this week, so the stats are ever-changing.  However, this one was famous for the wrong reasons, for being a film that was universally hated - but it couldn't really be THAT bad, could it? 


THE 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.

AFTER: I stand corrected, the movie could be, and is, that bad.  It's not that I'm mad at you, "Ishtar", I'm just disappointed.  You wanted so badly to be a throwback to those old comedies like "Lost in a Harem", or the "Road to" films, where two comedians like Abbott and Costello, or Hope and Crosby", would find themselves in a foreign land, and it seems like comedy would naturally ensue, there would be hijinks with an attractive foreign woman or two, and the surly Arab leader would end up losing his kingdom in a game of chance, or something, and the world order would be restored.

But this was just a lame idea from the start - like one of those SNL skits where some writer thinks it would be hi-LAR-ious to act out a bad cable access show, or a game show that doesn't go as planned, or any talk show where the whole bit is that the hosts have annoying accents.  Comedy has to GO somewhere (and I don't mean to a foreign country), the plot of even a comedy sketch has to have a destination in mind, or else it just circles around and eventually stops, without ending.  But hey, SNL, keep doing what you do, you're about to set a record for a comedy show, 20 years without using punchlines.  

So we have Warren and Dustin as Lyle and Chuck, or I guess it's "Rogers and Clarke", and they want to be like Simon & Garfunkel, but the problem seems to be, they have no songwriting talent.  This point is driven home, again and again, with one of their terrible creations after another.  My point is, bad is not funny, bad is just bad, especially if it's not clever.  (A Weird Al parody is usually quite clever, and thus we forgive any "badness", intentional or not, because the guy's just so damn smart.)  These songs are bad songs, presented as bad songs, so how can I possibly take them as anything but bad?  

An agent convinces them to do cover songs instead, and this then becomes a contrivance that allows them to be booked in a club in either Honduras or Morocco, and they choose the latter.  But first they have to travel through the fictional country of Ishtar, and that's where things continue to go wronger. A mysterious woman borrows Chuck's passport, which is a huge NITPICK POINT right off, because how is she going to use that?  She's neither a man, or an American, or capable of being Chuck Clarke in any way, so why is this even a plot point? 

But this puts Chuck in touch with the CIA, and they want him to do something, which is very unclear, and the CIA agent makes Chuck think that Lyle is in league with the Arab woman to do something that is even more unclear, and it eventually results in the two being lost in the desert and exposing the CIA, in a way that was completely unclear.  I know I fell asleep at some point, which certainly didn't help me understand what was going on, but there just wasn't anything here that was even trying to hold my attention.  

NITPICK POINT #2: There was zero reason for the film to start where it does, and then flashing back to show us how Rogers and Clarke met.  We gain no extra knowledge from this tampering with the time-stream, it would have been just as easy to start with their meeting, and proceed onward from there.  I can't understand why some writers and directors love unnecessary flashbacks. 

Overall, it just feels like a comedy where someone forgot that there should be jokes.  OK, so now I've watched both "Hudson Hawk" and this film, but I absolutely refuse to watch "Shanghai Surprise".  

Also starring Dustin Hoffman (last heard in "Kung Fu Panda 3"), Isabelle Adjani, Charles Grodin (last seen in "Catch-22"), Jack Weston (last seen in "The Cincinnati Kid"), Carol Kane (last seen in "Joe Versus the Volcano"), Tess Harper (last seen in "Crimes of the Heart"), David Margulies, Aharon Apalé, Fred Melamed (last seen in "The Pick-up Artist"), Matt Frewer (last seen in "Pixels"), Alex Hyde-White, Bill Bailey, Christine Rose.

RATING: 2 out of 10 camel sellers

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