As I journey through the bad movie world, I see all kinds of movies. Many stem from my own resources. They’re movies I’ve heard about, movies I have in my collection of DVDs and Blu-rays, or things on Netflix. But there is another side to my bad movie watching. I have people suggest movies to me. They could suggest movies I’ve never heard of, movies I’ve seen but haven’t covered, or movies that I haven’t seen that left a blind spot on my movie watching. This week is an example of that last subcategory. It’s a movie that I’ve heard is very bad, yet haven’t watched. Someone suggested it so I threw it into the schedule. This week’s movie is Ishtar.
The 1987 film followed Lyle Rogers (Warren Beatty) and Chuck Clarke (Dustin Hoffman), two American singer-songwriters who travelled to Morocco for a gig. They ended up entangled in a struggle between the Emir of Ishtar and a group of rebels working to overthrow him. Jim Harrison (Charles Grodin) was a CIA agent using Chuck and Lyle’s lack of intelligence to disrupt the rebels and keep the Middle East from breaking out in war.
Like I’ve been prone to do recently, I want to break this movie down. This movie was quite the experience. There were many ideas presented in the movie that didn’t mesh well and left a stunningly bad product. I don’t know how Ishtar ended up being made this way, but I can point to many of the aspects in the final film that were bad. Maybe I’ll find my answer while I’m writing. Who knows?
The History of Rogers and Clarke
The first fifteen or so minutes of Ishtar gave a history of Lyle Rogers and Chuck Clarke. As the two characters failed at their act once more, they went to a bar to drown their sorrows. We were then shown a flashback of how the characters met and what happened with their relationships and their careers. It got really dark, having both characters lose their significant others because they were so focused on their music. One of the characters even attempted suicide.
This style of humour didn’t really work. It was about beating these characters up. The characters got to where they needed to be for the real story, but it was just mean. Where the rest of the movie became a dark farce, this was the world tearing the characters down. The negativity was off-putting, and set the movie up for failure. It got better later on, though. It was only this opening portion that was offensively mean to the main characters.
There were decent jokes in there, though. It’s impossible for a comedy to have absolutely zero good jokes. If you’re looking for something funny, you’re bound to find at least one funny thing. Dustin Hoffman showed off his physical comedy by dancing around on stage during one failed performance. He is an underrated physical performer. There was also the long line of people who came to talk Chuck off the ledge of his apartment. The people who appeared from his past got increasingly more ridiculous to the point where you can’t help but laugh. That kind of stuff worked, even if the movie was too mean for its own good.
The Introduction of the Main Plot
Rogers and Clarke travelled from New York City to Ishtar in order to arrive at a gig in Morocco. The only reason for them to go to Ishtar before Morocco was to kickstart the main story. Any other travelling musicians would have gone directly to their destination, instead of going to the next country over.
It was while at the airport that Chuck met Shirra, a woman trying to get to Marrakesh. She needed his passport and luggage. He reluctantly, at first, gave it up thinking that he would be able to quickly obtain a new passport. The unrest in the Middle East held up that plan. He sent Lyle on alone and tried to figure out a way to get himself a passport. This led to Jim Harrison enlisting Chuck as a CIA mole.
Meanwhile, Lyle came into contact with Shirra once he arrived in Marrakesh. He unknowingly became an accomplice to the rebel forces that were trying to overthrow the Emir of Ishtar. When Chuck joined Lyle in Marrakesh the next night, it led to a series of farcical action scenes that would last the rest of the movie. The two characters thought they were working for the opposing forces in this soon to be war, when really the two sides were simply using them as pawns.
After the big action scene where spies from various nations were shooting at each other while Rogers and Clarke ran across rooftops, both sides of the war sent the characters into the desert. They didn’t care about the characters anymore and wanted to get rid of them. Sending them into the desert to die was their way of cutting any loose ends.
The CIA played on Chuck Clarke’s stupidity by telling him to walk through the desert until he reached The Oasis. Any intelligent person would know that an oasis is pretty much a mirage and there’s no real chance that you’ll reach it. Especially when you only have two canteens of water for two people. How long is that supposed to last you? Clarke fell for it, though, and decided that he needed to trek through the desert to stay safe.
As for the rebels, they gave Lyle Rogers a foolproof plan, which was tailor made for a fool like Lyle. He was sent into the desert with beads to drop and told that the beads would glow in the dark. At night, he would follow their path back into the town. They did not glow in the dark, however. The first question I would have about this plan is: Why not just walk a little distance and then rest? Why keep moving? The farther you walk, the farther you have to trek back. There’s more chance of getting lost, regardless of glowing beads, the farther you head out of town. I understand how that wouldn’t have tipped Lyle off, but it still smells fishy.
The Blind Camel
During Lyle’s espionage story, Shirra told him to go to the local market and ask for a blind camel. He did exactly that. It was supposed to be a coded message to set up a meeting with the rebels. Instead, Lyle bought a blind camel that would travel with him and Clarke for the remainder of the movie. While they were in town, they would walk around with the camel. Chuck and Jim Harrison spoke while kneeling under the camel. The camel even went into the desert. This blind camel became a third lead of sorts on their adventure.
A good amount of comedy came from the blind camel being around. Much of that comedy was mined from the camel being blind, but there were other jokes too. One was that it stood on Jim Harrison’s foot. That may not sound funny on paper. It worked in the movie. It was more of a visual gag than a written one. The other joke, and the one that worked best, happened during the climactic shootout near the end of the movie. Rogers and Clarke ended up with a large cache of guns and ammo. When they tried to move it, the camel wouldn’t go with them. They left the camel where it was and began dragging the weaponry away. While dragging it, the gun battle happened. At the end, the camera view widened to reveal the camel sitting about ten feet away from them. They had only moved ten feet before fighting. It wasn’t so much the camel that made the joke, but the small distance they had moved. The camel was still a part of it.
I’ve already given out many of the plot details of Ishtar, so I probably don’t have to say this, but there are spoilers ahead. The whole reason behind the twisty-turny espionage plots was that a map was found that would cripple the Emir’s regime. The CIA and Emir wanted the map to prevent an uprising, and the rebels wanted it to cause the uprising. In the end, following the shootout in the desert, the map went to the rebels.
The CIA needed to cover up their mission to protect the Emir. The shootout had blown their secrecy. That caused them to strike a deal with Rogers and Clarke. They would produce a record from the duo, recorded live at the Chez Casablanca. The Moroccan venue was the first place that Rogers and Clarke had found success. The CIA agreed to produce and promote the record. They brought in a bunch of agents to fill the room with applause whenever a song ended. Even Shirra showed up to the recording. Rogers and Clarke dedicated a song to her, and she cried from how much she liked it. The government people didn’t like the songs that much, though.
Ishtar was a strange movie. I didn’t find an answer to how it got made the way it got made. All I did was realize that I enjoyed it a little more than I thought. There were positive things that I could pull out of the movie. That doesn’t always happen, but I appreciate when it does. I appreciate that I could find things to like, even though I didn’t like the movie all that much. I hope that other people can do the same.
A lot of the time, people see movies as black or white. They’re either good or bad. They can’t be good with bad things. They can’t be bad with good things. The middle ground between good and bad seems to be disappearing among anyone who talks about anything. Ishtar was a bad movie, but it had good things in it. It is a movie that should be in the middle ground. Or, it shouldn’t be in the ground at all. Movies are not a scale. Movies are a feeling. You can’t just label one based on how good or bad it is. It should be able to fit into different ratings. A movie should be a movie and that’s all. That’s why there are good bad movies and bad bad movies. That’s why a bad movie can have one of your favourite movie moments. It is possible to dislike a movie but find one specific thing great. That’s the power of movies. And that’s why Ishtar is special. Hey, look. I found an answer.
I found some notes, too:
- Ishtar was suggested by @darbmilne.
- Since there are no actor/director connections or movies that I mentioned in this post, I’m going to link to a few movies relevant to stuff that is either in theaters now or coming soon.
- Here’s the post for Batman and Robin, since Suicide Squad comes out soon.
- Since Sharknado 4: The Fourth Awakens comes out tonight, here’s the Sharknado franchise post, as well as the posts for Two-Headed Shark Attack, and Three-Headed Shark Attack.
- Lights Out recently came out, so here’s a post for Alone in the Dark.
- Finally, with Nine Lives being released next week, here’s my post for A Talking Cat!?!
- Have you seen Ishtar? What do you think about it? Is it a hot mess or an unpolished gem? Is it bad with good, good with bad, or just straight good or bad? Use the comments section to discuss the movie.
- Do you want to suggest a movie for me to watch in a later week of the Sunday “Bad” Movies? You can suggest a movie by letting me know on Twitter or putting your suggestion in the comments.
- I am on snapchat and sometimes post stories of the bad movies I watch. If you want to see those stories, you can add me. Jurassicgriffin.
- Next week, the movie is going to be Double Team. It’s the first time I will feature a movie that has Jean-Claude van Damme, so that’s a milestone. It only took nearly 200 weeks for him to show up in the blog. I saw this movie in the 90s, but I don’t think I’ve seen it since. This is going to be interesting. I’ll see you next week after this rewatch of a movie I barely remember.