Oct 9, 2020
Ishtar (1987): a recap (part 4 of 9)
Previously on Ishtar: Lyle met suspected terrorist Shirra Assel, and was instantly attracted to her despite her extremely convincing “teenage boy” disguise. Lyle dealt with these confusing feelings in a totally mature manner: by punching her in the face. Still, Shirra was willing to send him off on a wild goose chase to the camel market in Shali Benimal to find a blind camel. Meanwhile, Chuck had a romantic dinner with CIA agent Jim Harrison and got a crash course in Middle Eastern politics that probably should have started out with the basics, like defining the term “Middle Eastern”. Or “politics”.
We return to our two main characters still walking through that outdoor market. Suddenly, a teenager in a Michael Jackson T-shirt runs up and offers the guys “spices for the mind? Kif? Hashish?” For a moment, Chuck looks very intrigued by the idea of hashish, but Lyle tells the kid to leave them alone. The boy introduces himself as Abdul, and being a street urchin in an impoverished country, he’s more than willing to be their guide and they can pay “Whatever you think it’s worth!”
As they walk along, Abdul informs them this is the “old city” and advises them not to look at the shopkeepers, but Chuck puts his foot down, telling him not to “guide” them, because they’re not paying him. Chuck warns that he can’t be hustled, because apparently being from New York and also in “show business” makes you totally streetwise.
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As the two men step inside a shop, we cut to two of the CIA guys, still wearing their sunglasses and fezzes. And around here is when I notice that the two actors are semi-notable. One of them is Matt Frewer, who was pretty famous at the time as Coca-Cola pitchman Max Headroom (Coke owned Columbia at the time; coincidence?). The other is… well, let’s say he’s really only “notable” to crap movie aficionados like myself; He’s Alex Hyde-White, who was Reed Richards in that horrible unreleased Fantastic Four film from the ‘90s.
It seems the joke in this scene is that a large percentage of the “tourists” walking around the outdoor market are actually agents of various foreign governments keeping tabs on Chuck and Lyle (or maybe just wanting to kill them?), as evidenced by their silly disguises. Frewer tells Hyde-White that he knows there are KGB agents here. Hyde-White says, “The ones dresses as Texans?” But actually, the KGB agents are “dressed as Arabs. The ones dressed as Texans are Arab agents.” And to make this extra-funny, we get a brief shot of two white guys in stereotypical Arab clothes as they speak to each other in Russian.
Well, since that joke worked out so well, why not immediately repeat it? Frewer points out that “Turkish intelligence” is also here. Hyde-White asks if they’re the ones in the Hawaiian shirts. Frewer says they’re the ones in the Bermuda shorts, and “the ones in the Hawaiian shirts… are tourists.”
Cut to Chuck and Lyle in a shop buying… something. Suddenly, swarthy guys in Hawaiian shirts come up behind them and tell them to act natural, because they have “guns pointed at your back”. Everyone puts their hands up, but the guys in Hawaiian shirts call them morons, because they said to act natural. So, I guess the guys in Hawaiian shirts aren’t actually tourists, then? Geez, at least make your jokes internally consistent.
Inside the CIA surveillance van, Harrison overhears what’s going down. He gets on the radio to frantically yell that the “birds are being netted! Hunters unknown!”
The CIA guys and various other agents all crowd around the shop entrance as Chuck and Lyle are escorted out. Abruptly, one CIA guy steps forward with a silenced pistol and just shoots one of Chuck and Lyle’s abductors, right out there in the open. Naturally, total chaos breaks out. The guy keels over dead, and Lyle just looks at him and goes, “You alright?”
Gunfire erupts all around them, and Chuck and Lyle make a run for it. Suddenly, the outdoor market is swarming with various agents scampering around in their stupid disguises. Chuck and Lyle are desperate to make their escape, and they luckily happen upon Abdul again. Chuck yells, “You’re hired!” and Lyle promises to pay him handsomely if he gets them out of here.
Before they can make a move, Abdul points out a guy (wearing a Woody Woodpecker cap?) aiming a gun at them. They duck out of the way, and the guy shoots one of his fellow agents by mistake. But the reaction on the shooter’s face is more like a guy who forgot to separate his lights and darks while doing laundry than someone who just accidentally murdered a coworker. A moment later, he gets carried away by the panicked crowd.
Chuck and Lyle and Abdul keep running, and soon they’re caught between two mobs of fake tourists coming at them from both directions. So Abdul waves them into the shop of his uncle, who’s a rug dealer. After a few moments of agents running around the market, openly waving their guns around in every direction, we cut to inside the rug dealer’s shop, where two rugs are being rolled up to suggest Chuck and Lyle are hiding inside.
Men come in with guns demanding to know where the Americans are, and then they pick up the rugs and carry them out. That’s when it’s revealed Chuck and Lyle were actually standing there hiding in plain sight the whole time, wearing shirts with hoods over their faces. My confidence in Ishtarian (Ishtari?) intelligence is dropping by the minute.
Abdul and Abdul’s uncle lead them upstairs to the roof, and now Chuck and Lyle and Abdul are darting over roofs, while random people scurry around in the market below. We see the agents drop the rugs, only now realizing they’re empty and Chuck and Lyle have gotten away.
The faux-Middle Eastern action music hits a frenetic pace as the three guys continue to run across rooftops. Eventually, they leap down into the patio of a restaurant, running across tables on their way out. Abdul says he’s taking them to his “car”, which appears to be a jeep, and as they hop in, Chuck wonders where they’re going. Naturally, Lyle yells out, “Camel market, Shali Benimal!” And thus ends the first scene in this movie that makes me legally obligated to refer to it as an action-comedy.
Cut to, as the caption informs us, “Ishtar – The Emir’s Palace”. And hey, it does have a roof with a golden dome! All that pointless trivia did not lie. As a helicopter lands in front of the palace, we continue to hear announcements about the military curfew in Ishtar and how anyone found outside after dark will be arrested. Okay, this made some sense back at the airport, but in front of the palace? Are there just loudspeakers on every street corner in the country blaring these announcements 24 hours a day?
Jim Harrison starts to get out of the helicopter, and then we cut to him inside the palace, where the whole political intrigue plot that nobody cares about kicks into gear as we finally get to meet Emir Yousef. There’s some pointless business where this supposed tyrant greets Harrison warmly and offers him “mint tea” or a “Pepsi Cola”. Holy crap, $50 million and Coke couldn’t even get their own product plugged in this movie? No wonder they sold off the studio.
To the sounds of random gunfire outside, the two sit at the Emir’s desk. Harrison calls him “Your Excellency”, and says that he knows his men just tried to kill “two Americans in Marrakech”. The Emir says he’s shocked to hear this, and of course he’s shocked in the way Claude Rains was shocked.
Harrison knows it was his men, because they were using the “Kalashnikov rifles we sold you”, not that we saw any Kalashnikovs in the previous scene. He tries to convince the Emir that the Americans are just pawns. The Emir says he knows nothing about any Americans, but if two men came into his country and befriended the “most hunted fugitive in the country” (meaning Shirra), then he would “hardly call them pawns!” He’s certain that their escape today will be “hailed as a miracle”, and soon, people will come to believe they’re the “two messengers of God” prophesied by that ancient map.
He fears “fanatical devout Shiites” will take the map as a “sign to rise up against me!” He wants to eliminate the two Americans so that the people can see that “God does not work miracles for those who oppose me!”
Harrison sternly warns the Emir that if two Americans die… it’ll have to be “unofficially”, because Congress will have a “fit” if they find out there’s “another CIA hit list”. The Emir doesn’t care how the two men die, as long as “their bodies do not disappear” so he can put an end to any rumors. Oh, and for some reason they have to be killed by next weekend. Harrison cheerfully says he’ll have “no difficulty meeting your timetable”.
Meanwhile, Abdul’s jeep pulls up at the famed Shali Benimal camel market, and Lyle decides to get out and go off on his own, without explaining where he’s going. Naturally, Chuck waits a few seconds and follows him. As Lyle walks past the lines of camels waiting to be sold, Chuck does a terrible job of tailing him, trying to cover his face with baskets and such until he eventually decides to duck into a hotel.
Meanwhile, Lyle goes over to a group of men selling camels. As you should recall by now (given the way Lyle has repeated it to himself roughly forty times), Shirra told him to go to a camel market and ask for “Mohamad” and say he wants to buy a blind camel. Lyle discreetly accomplishes this goal by yelling out, “Mohamad?” And the joke is five guys turn around, because we’re in an Arab country, and everyone is named Mohamad. Racist humor is the best! For some reason, one guy in particular draws Lyle’s attention and he thinks this is the Mohamad he’s looking for.
He tells the guy he’s here to buy a blind camel, but it turns out this Mohamad doesn’t speak English. So Mohamad #1 talks to the other Mohamads and eventually they bring over an interpreter who says, “I am speaking English. You tell me, I tell him.” Lyle says he wants to buy a blind camel, and in response, the guy just gets a wide-eyed look on his face.
But eventually, the interpreter gets in a huddle with the other sellers, then finally tells Lyle he can get him a blind camel. Also, they know of a camel with “a crippled leg and no teeth”, and he can get “both for a special price”. He then asks, “Would you like a dead camel?” But Lyle insists that all he wants is a blind camel.
Chuck is watching him from a hotel window. The door opens, and in walks Shirra. So, I guess Lyle wasn’t completely off-base here? Coming to this market and asking for Mohamad and saying you want to buy a blind camel really is the way to find Shirra? Though, that doesn’t explain why she’s up here instead of stopping Lyle from actually going through with trying to buy a blind camel.
Shirra is now in her terrorist garb, which is pretty much just her “boy” outfit, only now she’s holding a big gun. She thinks that Lyle told Chuck about Mohamad, and now the CIA must know. She says she’s been looking for Chuck, and an embittered Chuck asks, “Is your life in danger again? What do you need this time, a donor heart?”
But Shirra only wants what was in her suitcase. She says that after they left, she broke into their hotel room to retrieve the suitcase, but discovered that the map wasn’t in it. She’s certain they found the map and gave it to Jim Harrison.
Chuck tells her to “stop throwing Jim Harrison up to me”. He says the only reason Harrison recruited him is because “you recruited Lyle as a communist!” As it turns out, this whole thing comes down to Chuck being jealous. “Why didn’t you recruit me as a communist? Wasn’t I good enough?” But he’s resigned to his fate. He thinks Shirra has the “right to pick who you want. It’s a free country! …No thanks to you and Lyle.”
Finally, she realizes he’s telling the truth, and hasn’t told the CIA about the map. She goes into a tedious explanation of how she packed that suitcase with all of her brother’s things on the night he was killed. She gets all weepy as she talks about how the map must be hidden somewhere in his things. She even put on her brother’s clothes, “So I would look like a boy!” And when she saw Chuck at the airport, she decided he was her “last hope”.
She begs him not to tell anyone she doesn’t have the map, because it “means my life”. A sarcastic Chuck replies, “That means your life, too?” Shirra says she’s a member of the “party” that opposes the Emir, and she’ll be “killed on sight” if word gets out that she doesn’t have the map.
She then calls him “Hawk” again, while the music of exotic mystery (previously heard at the airport) plays once again. She tells Chuck that he probably can’t understand everything that’s going on, because “this is an ancient, devious world, and you come from a young country”. Yeah, sorry, I don’t think Chuck being born in the New World has anything to do with his cluelessness. But she wants him to keep her secret “without trying to understand it”.
Then there’s a weird, abrupt turnaround as Chuck is suddenly smiling and hoping they can “meet every day”. He adds, “I knew you were a nice girl!” And that’s all for now. Don’t miss our next thrilling installment, when Lyle finally gets his blind camel. No, really.