Warren Beatty (l) and Dustin Hoffman in ISHTAR (d. Elaine May, 1987, Columbia Pictures)
ISHTAR (PG-13, 107 min., Columbia Pictures, May 1987)
“Ishtar shall rise again,” Dustin Hoffman proclaimed to the audience on the occasion of Warren Beatty’s AFI Lifetime Achievement Award. It could hardly have been any deader in Box Office or critical opinion in 1987. Roger Ebert gave the film one half star — not even a full star! In his original review (May 15, 1987), Ebert called ISHTAR “a truly dreadful film, a lifeless, massive, lumbering exercise in comedy.” You can read the whole review here.
Twenty-six years later, the NYT’s A.O. Scott wrote thoughtfully about ISHTAR in a piece about reconsidering Box Office Bombs. Saying that, “ISHTAR has entreated the lexicon – along with HEAVEN’S GATE, WATERWORLD and HOWARD THE DUCK – as shorthand for large scale cinematic unsuccess. Which is fine, except that ISHTAR is a really good movie that suffered, in its infancy, from very bad press.” Read Scott’s piece here.
Elaine May seems to have suffered the most from the fall out over the film’s 14.4 million dollar gross against a 55.5 millions dollar budget — an extraordinary amount at the time. Rumors about her swirled, blame was assigned. She hasn’t directed since. She once quipped, “If all the people who hate ISHTAR had seen it, I would be a rich woman today.” Thank God she kept writing. I wished she’d kept directing. If the charm, wit and timing of Elaine May have eluded you to this point in your life, watch this clip of May saluting her comedy partner, Mike Nichols, at his AFI Lifetime Achievement Award. It’s a bravura performance.
Director: Elaine May, Writer: Elaine May, Producer: Warren Beatty, Cinematographer: Vittorio Storaro, Composer: Dave Grusin, Editors: Richard P. Cirincione, Wiliam Reynolds, Stephen A. Rotter, Production Designer: Paul Sylbert
CAST: Warren Beatty, Dustin Hoffman, Isabelle Adjani, Charles Grodin, Jack Weston, Tess Harper, Carol Kane
Watched on Blu*ray (Sony Home Video)
*Most Mondays I watch a classic or historically significant movie that falls into one of these categories: 1) Have never seen it, or 2) Have never seen it uncut, or 3) Have only seen it once, or 4) Haven’t seen it in a very long time.
Some information from: IMDb Pro, BoxOfficeMojo