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Ishtar

Year: 1987
Studio: Columbia Pictures
Director: Elaine May
Producer: Warren Beatty
Writer: Elaine May
Cast: Warren Beatty, Dustin Hoffman, Isabelle Adjani, Charles Grodin
This is one of those films whose reputation far overshadows any merits or shortcomings of the film itself, one of the few in the pantheon of famous failures, whispered in the same awestruck breath as Cutthroat Island and 1941.

The only reason the mythology has taken hold though is because of the economics of the time; nowadays, plenty of studios expect to spend $50m on a film and have it make back barely a fifth of that. The financial wreckage from 2006's Poseidon (to quote one example) was much worse.

So when you put the notoriety about the film aside, is it so bad? It's far from the best and far from the worst in the movies, and without the presence of Beatty and Hoffman probably would have been a forgettable comedy barely costing double figures.

They play two awful, down on their luck lounge singers who get the chance to play a hotel gig in fictional Middle Eastern country called Ishtar, under the grip of a totalitarian Emir.

While the clueless duo try merely to make their money and entertain their delusions of grandeur, they're approached by both a beautiful stranger with a tale of danger and rebellion and a local CIA agent (Grodin), becoming the focal point in a tussle for control of the country.

The premise is passable, the story fair and the jokes amusing, but there's one aspect of note; Warren Beatty's performance. Rather than the alpha male hero of most of his roles, he plays a bumbling, self-conscious nerd and does so convincingly. If the two leads had switched roles it would have seemed like a natural fit; maybe that's why audiences didn't buy it.

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