Blu-ray Review: Ishtar


STUDIO: Sony | DIRECTOR: Elaine May | CAST: Warren Beatty, Dustin Hoffman, Isabelle Adjani, Jack Weston, Charles Grodin
BLU-RAY RELEASE DATE: 8/13/2013 | PRICE: Blu-ray $19.99
SPECS: PG-13 | 107 min. | Comedy | 1.85:1 widescreen | DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 | English subtitles

RATINGS (out of 5 dishes): Movie | Audio | Video | Overall


In the quarter-century since it’s high-profile $50+ million production and subsequent flame-out at the box office, the legend of the Elaine May comedy Ishtar starring Warren Beatty (Dick Tracy) and Dustin Hoffman (Little Big Man) has only grown , even as the movie itself has been re-appraised as an misunderstood gem, a cult favorite, an underappreciated late-Eighties American comedy, blah, blah, blah…

Well, Ishtar has finally arrived on Blu-ray from Sony (after several years of delays) and I checked it out for the first time since seeing it in theaters back in 1987 and my opinion of it hasn’t changed at all. My review: It’s alright.

Ishtar movie scene

Dustin Hoffman (l.) goes undercover with Warren Beatty in Ishtar.

That’s it, really—it’s alright. Beatty and Hoffman are a pair of idiotic singer/songwriters who wing over to Morocco to play their first-ever professional gig and along the way they finds themselves in a the middle of a covert international incident involving the U.S. government, the C.I.A., and the oil-rich mythical country of Ishtar. Along their way to deliverance from the situation, the boys encounter a lovely Ishtarian rebel (Isabelle Adjani, Mammuth), an underhanded CIA dupe (Charles Grodin), a blind camel, and a genuine shot at a songwriting career.

Again, it’s alright. With Ishtar, we have another example (alongside Cutthroat island, Waterworld, and, more recently, John Carter) of the backstage tale getting the lion’s share of attention. The movie itself begins as a relatively lightweight affair featuring two charming leading men getting their silliness on, it balloons into a big-budget production that puts the emphasis on sweeping panoramas, battling armies and colorful foreign bazaars, all but burying its dynamic duo.

But there are still come grand laughs and and shtick sprinkled about (though the satirical American imperialism jokes are sorta stiff), particularly in the first third’s NYC sequences, which features an hysterical montage of the boys composing and performing as their addled agent Jack Weston (The Ritz) reaches for another antacid.

Sony’s Ishtar Blu-ray features Ms. May’s director’s cut of the film, which clocks in at 105 minutes, two minutes shorter than the theatrical release. I’ve only seen each version once—25 years apart from each other, no less—but I’ll be damned if I can find the difference between the two of them. It would been helpful if Sony included the theatrical cut on the Blu-ray, but no dice.

That said, the Blu-ray looks and sounds really nice.


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About Laurence

Founder and editor Laurence Lerman saw Alfred Hitchcock’s North by Northwest when he was 13 years old and that’s all it took. He has been writing about film and video for more than a quarter of a century for magazines, anthologies, websites and most recently, Video Business magazine, where he served as the Reviews Editor for 15 years.