Ishtar (1987): a recap (part 3 of 9)
Previously on Ishtar: We learned that the fate of a fictitious Middle Eastern country rested on the shoulders of “two messengers of God”, who shockingly turned out to be Chuck and Lyle, two terrible songwriters from New York taking their terrible act to Morocco. Chuck got flashed at the airport by a suspected terrorist named Shirra, which led to him being recruited by the CIA. And yet, he was still able to make it to Morocco just in time to join Lyle on stage to perform for the most easily entertained audience seen outside of a taping of The Big Bang Theory.
Cut to Chuck and Lyle’s hotel room later that night. Chuck has gone out for a supposed “drive”, and Lyle is in bed trying to get to sleep.
Suddenly, “suspense” music plays as the door opens, and a dark figure sneaks into the room. Lyle spazzes out, and immediately jumps down behind the bed, watching the intruder walk towards their suitcases. But before whoever it is can make off with one of the suitcases, Lyle yells out, “Hold it, buddy!”
He tackles the would-be thief, who turns out to be Shirra, still dressed in her purported “boy” disguise. Lyle wrestles with her, calling her “pal” and “boy”, so it seems the running gag means Lyle is also unable to tell that this is obviously a woman.
As he pins Shirra to the floor, he discovers that she’s got Chuck’s passport. Shirra lies and says she found it, and was just bringing it back. But Lyle yells, “What do you think I am, boy, a fool?” He yells at her not to move, saying, “I’ll kill you in a fight!”
Then the two are grappling and flopping around on the floor as Lyle feels Shirra up and says, “Boy, you’re soft, pal!” Shirra insists she’s telling the truth, but Lyle thinks she’s just trying to pull one over on him, and she must think he’s a “big, dumb, hick American”. He threatens to call the police, but she begs him not to, because she’ll go to jail and “my family will starve”.
Lyle then has her flipped over and pinned on her back, telling her that he doesn’t believe one word she’s saying, when suddenly… Shirra kisses him. And the kiss lasts for several seconds, and Lyle even begins moaning a bit with delight, until he’s overcome with horror about supposedly kissing a “boy”.
He jumps up and totally freaks out, telling her to stay away from him. And when Shirra ignores him and approaches him anyway, he punches her in the face, knocking her on the floor. Wow. I can’t tell what’s funnier here, the random violence against women, or Lyle being a gay basher. Either way: comedy gold!
But it’s okay, because Lyle “didn’t hit you hard, because I’m bigger than you are”. He also seems to think the “boy” is only 15 years old, and asks him what kind of life he’s leading where he’s “breaking into hotel rooms, robbing people, kissing guys on the mouth?” He tells her she should be trying something “younger”. Shirra, writhing around in pain on the floor, mutters, “Yes, but poverty has made me old.”
Lyle then feels sorry for the “boy” and offers her money, telling her to go buy a “nice kite or a fishing pole. Didn’t your daddy ever take you fishing?” Shirra, still rolling around on the floor, says, “My father is dead.” And possibly Shirra’s lines were meant to be funny in a darkly comedic sort of way, but her pained and morose delivery just makes this whole scene feel depressing.
Lyle goes to help her up, and ends up grabbing her by the boobs, and it’s only that he finally realizes she’s a woman. Shirra begs him to listen to her, and says his “roommate” is working for the CIA, and their hotel room might be bugged. Lyle’s only response is, “Are these breasts?” No, seriously, are they? He’s never touched breasts before; he’s been too busy kissing boys.
She goes on to tell him about the poverty and injustice in Ishtar, and how the CIA is keeping “Emir Yousef” in power, but all Lyle can do is continue to grope her. She wrestles out of his arms and begs for his help to “overthrow a tyrant”. She then goes on to assert that the “privation and torture of thousands” can be ended if she gets what’s in that suitcase. She finally reveals that she switched suitcases and jackets with Chuck at the airport, and that’s why she has Chuck’s passport.
Lyle refuses to believe this, so she tells him to ask himself how Chuck was able to get to Morocco in only 24 hours. She also asks, “Why is he accepting money from the CIA?” Except, he hasn’t accepted any money from the CIA yet (that happens in the next scene, actually), and Lyle doesn’t find out until later, but I suspect some scenes got shuffled around in the editing.
Shirra says if he decides she’s telling the truth, he should go to the “camel market in Shali Benimal” and ask for a guy named Mohamad, and “Tell him that you wish to buy a blind camel.” She says Mohamad will then get in contact with her. She starts to leave, but for no particular reason, she turns and says, “The dome of the Emir’s palace in Ishtar is gold. The people have never seen a refrigerator.” And then she leaves. So, um, are we just sharing random trivia, then? Did you know that the human head weighs eight pounds?
As for Chuck, we find him at a restaurant called the Oasis Cafe, where a waiter flags him down and calls him inside. Chuck steps in to see Harrison sitting alone at a candlelit table waiting for him. Meanwhile, three other waiters are standing at his beck and call, though as we find out momentarily, these aren’t waiters, but rather more CIA agents in disguise. One of them even waves a metal detector over Chuck as he walks to Harrison’s table.
As soon as Chuck sits down, Harrison hands him a wad of cash, which turns out to be $150, as promised. Chuck asks how he should explain the money to Lyle. Harrison says not to tell him, but Chuck feels “funny” about doing that, because he would “never hold out on Lyle”.
Harrison points out that he’s holding out on him right now, because he didn’t tell Lyle where he was going and said he was just going for a drive. Chuck wonders how Harrison could possibly know that, and it turns out the pen Harrison gave him back in part 2 is actually a microphone. Harrison says they had to bug him, to “make sure you didn’t know what was involved when you helped Shirra Assel get out of Ishtar,” whatever that may mean.
Chuck pretends not to know who this Shirra person is, but Harrison already knows Shirra just arrived in Morocco with Chuck’s passport. He explains that she’s a “left-wing agent”, and talks about how her brother was killed a few days ago because he found a map that “could destabilize the entire Middle East.” He says at the very least, it could cost them Ishtar, which they can’t afford, particularly because “Morocco signed a pact with Gaddafi.”
Harrison: Gaddafi’s a person. He rules Libya.
Chuck: Oh, yeah. [pause] But that’s near here, isn’t it?
Harrison: Libya? Yeah, Libya’s near here. Yeah.
Actually, I must admit, that wasn’t dialogue from Ishtar. That was from George W. Bush being briefed on his first day in office.
Harrison says all the intelligence agencies in the region are trying to get their hands on that map. They think Shirra has it, and they have to find her before those other “agencies” do. And Harrison thinks Chuck’s roommate knows where she is. In fact, they “have reason to believe that Lyle Rogers is a left-wing agent!”
As proof, he says Shirra was just spotted leaving Lyle’s hotel room, and her “clothes were torn, her shirt was out, she was breathing heavily.” Harrison thinks they had a “sexual encounter”, and Lyle was “recruited as a left-wing agent.”
Chuck laughs at this. “Lyle’s not a communist! He’s from the South!” Also, he doesn’t think that Shirra is “that kind of girl.” Harrison deadpans that she’s a “suspected terrorist”. To which Chuck replies, “Granted, but that doesn’t mean she sleeps around!” Buh doom boom.
Of course, there’s a huge gaping plot hole here. Supposedly, the CIA desperately needs to find Shirra and get the map. And yet, they (or some other agency) just spotted her coming out of Chuck and Lyle’s hotel room. Why didn’t they just pick her up then?
Harrison wants to know who booked them at that hotel, and Chuck says, “Marty Freed, our agent!” So Harrison talks to his watch and says, “Marty Freed, independent agent.”
He starts grilling Chuck about Marty, and Chuck abruptly hands the money back, saying he doesn’t want any part of this. Harrison tells him to just think it over, and then hands him a big silver beeper, saying “you can get in touch with me just by using that.” I don’t think beepers really work like that, but I’ll concede that not too many people had first-hand experience with beepers at the time this was made. Chuck doesn’t want to accept the beeper, but then becomes intrigued when he finds out it’s solid silver.
Back at the hotel room, Lyle is in bed as Chuck quietly comes in. Chuck pulls out the wad of cash and starts counting the money. Sure, he could have done this in the car on the way back, but then how would Lyle be able to catch a glimpse of him with the money? Lyle secretly watches as Chuck hides the cash behind a mirror, and soon they’re both asleep.
In the morning, Lyle wakes up and quietly gets out of bed, and throws some clothes on and sneaks out with the car keys. As soon as he’s outside, Chuck jumps out of bed and pulls on his pants, and naturally, he’s wearing bright red briefs. So enjoy this shot of his tidy, um, reddies.
As Lyle walks out of the hotel, he keeps repeating to himself that he needs to go to Shali Benamal and ask for Mohamad and say he wants to buy a blind camel. He walks past several beggars and two guys in sunglasses and fezzes. Keen eyes might note that these are the same CIA agents who were disguised as waiters the previous night at the Oasis Cafe, and as Lyle walks past, they immediately begin following him. (Especially keen eyes might also notice a couple of “hey it’s that guy” character actors in the group, but more on them next time.)
Chuck comes out of the hotel right behind him, and the CIA guys quickly try to act inconspicuous. Soon, Chuck is quietly following Lyle, and the CIA guys are quietly following both of them. There also seem to be a couple of cars slowly following them, as well. No idea who that is.
Suddenly, Lyle stops, causing those cars to bang into each other. Totally not noticing this, Lyle turns around and walks back to the hotel, causing everybody to hide and duck into doorways. Lyle walks right past Chuck hiding in a doorway, and you think he’s completely missed him, but a moment later, Lyle comes back into the frame, staring directly at Chuck.
Chuck has been busted, but he pretends he’s standing in a doorway because he wanted to know who lives in this house. “You ever wonder that about old houses? Who lives in them?” Then Lyle pretends he was coming back to get Chuck, and he was just going for a walk. But Chuck points out that he took the car keys. They’ve both got each other dead to rights here, but instead of simply explaining to each other what they’re actually up to, they “comically” act like nothing is amiss as they go for that walk. And of course, the whole herd of CIA agents follows right behind them.
Soon, they wind up at a big outdoor market, and as they walk, the joke is that the CIA guys are like, directly behind them, but Chuck and Lyle are completely oblivious. The two then begin a pretense of having small talk, specifically by reciting all the trivia they’ve learned over the past couple of days from Shirra and/or the CIA.
Chuck offers, “You know that in Russia, communists can’t go into business?” Lyle counters with the thing about the golden dome of the Emir’s palace and how the people of Ishtar have never seen a refrigerator. Chuck comes back with, “Did you know that Gaddafi has signed a pact with Morocco?” Holy crap, it is that scene from Jerry Maguire.
As they walk around the market, we zoom in on what appears to be a delivery van for the Oasis Cafe. We cut to inside, and duh, it’s actually Harrison and his CIA guys doing surveillance on Chuck and Lyle. One of the CIA guys, oh, let’s call him Cop Moustache… because of his cop moustache, listens to their inane babbling and sighs. “I can’t believe these men may control the fate of the Middle East.”
That’s all for now. Check back next time for what barely qualifies as this movie’s first action scene! Yes, it turns out Ishtar is an action-comedy. Who knew?