Ishtar (1987), a recap (part 5 of 9): A nod is as good as a wink... to a blind camel
Previously on Ishtar: After the heart-pounding excitement of a chase scene involving two guys pushing sixty, Chuck and Lyle escaped from the clutches of the Emir’s spies and finally made it to the camel market at Shali Benimal. While Lyle negotiated for a blind camel, Chuck had a conversation with Shirra, and Jim Harrison also met with the Emir, and both conversations were filled with political… um… what word means the opposite of “intrigue”?
We’re still at the camel market in beautiful scenic Shali Benimal. And as promised, here comes Lyle, leading around his brand new blind camel. Chuck shows up, completely stunned, and Lyle talks about all the things he just bought, including a “Tuareg” gown, a keffiyeh or two, and oh yeah, also a camel. Chuck is flabbergasted. “You bought a camel?”
Suddenly, the camel veers right, knocking a guy down. Chuck says, “What’s the matter with him? Is he blind?” And Lyle reveals that yes, in fact, the camel is blind, but other than that, the animal is in “perfect condition”. And thanks to the wonders of hi-def Blu-ray, you can clearly see the wire they attached to the camel’s reins to make him suddenly turn right. And here’s another fun fact: The studio briefly considering retitling this movie Blind Camel instead of Ishtar, and you can just imagine the field day the critics would have had with that.
Lyle gets the camel under control. He says he’s “not supposed to have him permanently, I don’t think.” But he still thinks that the camel is “kind of a sign”. Chuck tells Lyle to get rid of the camel, and get out of the heat, and suddenly, Lyle becomes despondent. He says, “Oh, God. I got a feeling something went wrong, and now I own a blind camel.” I got a feeling something went really wrong, and Ishtar got made.
And the question that immediately comes to mind is, why did Lyle actually buy a blind camel? I’m pretty sure when Shirra told him to do this, she was just giving him the secret code word. You know, like instead of saying “the falcon has landed” or “the fat man walks alone”, he was just supposed to find Mohamad and say “I want to buy a blind camel”, and then he would be directed to Shirra. Right? He wasn’t supposed to really buy the camel, was he? But then again, we wouldn’t have had all the wackiness that goes along with having a camel in the movie, and wouldn’t that have been a shame? (It would not have.)
Just then, Chuck spots one of those government agents dressed as a tourist in a Hawaiian shirt prowling around the camel market, so he tells Lyle to cover his face. Chuck asks for a keffiyeh so he can put it on as a disguise, and Lyle tells him to go “behind the hump” to change clothes. But the camel keeps stomping around wildly and taking people down, apparently because it “hurts her tooth” if Lyle pulls the reins too hard.
Chuck tells Lyle to go off and change into the gown he just bought, because he’s sure the guy who sold him the camel “has probably described you down to your socks!” As Lyle walks off, Chuck stands there holding the camel. Jim Harrison suddenly shows up and asks, “How much for the camel?”
Chuck loudly yells out his name, but Harrison tells him to keep his voice down and “point at the camel as we speak”. Chuck wonders how Harrison found him, and it turns out that to no one’s surprise, the solid silver beeper he gave him in part 3, just like the pen, was some kind of spy device. Harrison then warns that the men in “straw hats” are soldiers in “Emir Yousef’s army,” and they’re “trying to kill you.”
Chuck is confused, because he thought the Emir was on their side, but Harrison pretends that he is, and he just “doesn’t like the idea of your friend dealing with a known communist.” Harrison tries to, um, pet the camel, but Chuck warns him not to touch the camel’s mouth because of its bad tooth. For no particular reason, they both crouch down near the camel’s knees. Chuck continues to point at the camel as he says that he needs to talk to Harrison about this “Shirra Assel situation”, adding, “I’ve heard the Emir is a prick!”
Harrison sarcastically promises to “look into that”, but first, he says Chuck and Lyle have to get out of town before they’re recognized.
Chuck: Yeah. That’s where Las Vegas is. [smirking] Cute, huh?
Harrison: That is cute, yeah. “That’s where Las Vegas is.” That’s a good one. I’ll have to remember that. You can stop pointing now.
He makes Chuck stand up, and hands him two canteens and a compass. He tells him to get to the “Harridan Oasis”, which is allegedly a two-hour walk outside of town, and he says the CIA will pick them up there.
Then Harrison tells Chuck to “move the camel”, and he repeats “move the camel” a few more times. When Chuck finally asks where, Harrison replies, “Anywhere. He’s on my foot.” These are the jokes we’re getting, folks, so laugh it up. And then Harrison asks, “Is he blind?” Why yes, yes, he is.
Cut to the dark, smoke-filled den of the communist revolutionaries of Ishtar, which is apparently in close proximity to Shali Benimal. Shirra is telling her fellow freedom fighters that even though she told Chuck she doesn’t have the map, he promised he wouldn’t say anything. However, another guy points out that twenty minutes after she met up with Chuck, Jim Harrison suddenly appeared.
He says that Chuck and Lyle have to be taken care of, because if word gets out that Shirra’s group doesn’t have the map, “we’ll all be dead by tomorrow. And our families!” Shirra knows what she has to do, but she’s reluctant to send two men out into the desert to die. She says that “it is better to kill two men than two hundred. But it is much harder.” Really? Because I’d think killing 200 men would be kinda tough, too.
Cut to some random doorway near the camel market. Lyle is spazzing out as he tries to figure out how to put on that gown. Shirra suddenly appears behind him, telling him not to turn around as she helps him put on the gown, and she also drapes strings of red beads around his neck. She says that he and Chuck have to walk into the desert, and drop the beads as they go, and then when it gets dark, they can follow the beads back to town. “They are golamine beads. They glow in the dark.” As you might expect, “golamine” is a word totally made up for this movie, but I have no idea if that’s the joke or not.
Lyle listens to this spiel and wonders if he can just have a map instead, but Shirra tells him “there is no map of the desert! Everyone uses golamine beads!” Lyle is concerned that birds might eat the beads, or the wind might blow them away. But Shirra says “the birds in the desert eat only flesh”—whew, well, that’s a relief!—“and there is no wind!”
Lyle finally stands up and confesses that he thinks about Shirra all the time. “Sometimes, I imagine you dressed like a girl!” But only sometimes, mind you. She says they’ll talk about it tonight, and tells him to go. Then we get a totally unnecessary shot of Shirra walking back to the terrorist den to announce, “It is done.”
A shot of the sweltering sun takes us to the two guys wandering through the desert, and welcome to the next 30 minutes (or possibly 30 hours; it’s hard to say for sure) of your life. They’ve brought the blind camel along with them, and are leading it around as it continues to… neigh, and… bleat. Or whatever you call the sound a camel makes. We also see the city far off on the horizon, so the guys have apparently already walked quite a distance.
Chuck demands to know why Lyle is dropping beads, and Lyle says that they just have to wait for it to get dark, and then the beads will “shine” and show them the way back. But the joke here, such as it is, is that Lyle has been told by Shirra to return to town, whereas Chuck has been told by Jim Harrison to look for an oasis, and the two men are, um, “hilariously” working at cross-purposes here. Chuck asks how the beads can help them if they want to go forward, not back, and Lyle admits they can’t.
So Chuck says it’s a good thing he bought a compass, and also a couple of canteens. He warns Lyle not to drink too much, because “that water has to last you about another 48 minutes”. He also says that he heard there was an oasis just outside of town. And you really have to wonder why they didn’t discuss any of this before now. What exactly were they talking about for the last hour of walking through the desert?
Lyle says he’s tired, and Chuck tells him to just ride the camel. Lyle attempts to get on the camel, and unfunny slapstick hijinks ensue.
Cut to a computer screen in the CIA surveillance van, with a flashing, beeping dot meant to represent the directionless wandering of Chuck and Lyle. Or perhaps, the pointless meandering of this movie’s plot.
We hear Harrison’s voice explain that the two men will be out of water by tonight, and by tomorrow afternoon, they’ll be dead. As he speaks, he winces and touches his heavily bandaged foot. You know, from the camel standing on his foot. Again, these are the jokes.
Alex Hyde-White is also in the van, and he notices the odd path they’re taking, and asks, “Are they drunk?” But Harrison matter-of-factly says the camel is blind and everyone gives him looks.
And then it’s back to the guys still wandering through the desert. Lyle, sprawled out across the back of the camel, is still dropping beads. Meanwhile, Chuck can’t figure out why they haven’t reached the oasis yet. Chuck starts to slow down, muttering, “It’s hot today!” (today?) and then he collapses face-first into the sand.
Lyle jumps off the camel and runs back to him, yelling, “Hold on, Hawk! Hold on, I’m coming!” in a callback to Chuck’s attempted suicide on the ledge in part 1 that feels like it happened about fifteen years ago.
Then Lyle is in a panic when he looks up and sees a vulture circling overhead. It soon lands near Chuck, and then two more vultures land near his unconscious body. A frantic Lyle crawls along, trying to shoo the birds away, yelling, “No, no, no! Not dead! Just resting!” Not dead! Just put soundly to sleep by this movie! He looks up and sees a dozen more vultures flying overhead.
At last, he’s able to revive Chuck with a little bit of a water. Chuck comes to, and initially thinks they must have reached the oasis, because they’re surrounded by birds. But then he finally realizes they’re vultures.
Chuck: You mean they’re here on spec?
Wakka wakka wakka! Ain’t showbiz crazy? Chuck can’t understand why they haven’t found the oasis yet, because it’s supposed to be just an hour and a half outside of Shali Benimal. “You can’t miss it!” A suspicious Lyle asks who told him that, and Chuck says he can’t remember.
But Lyle is clearly not worried, because he still has his beads to lead them back. He starts to drink from a canteen and Chuck warns him not to drink all their water, but Lyle is convinced they’ll be back in Shali Benimal by tonight. “It’s gonna be night! You don’t need water at night!” Well, I see we have ourselves a couple of regular Bear Gryllses here.
Chuck doesn’t think it’s wise to count on a trail of beads in the desert, because a big wind might come along and blow them all away. Lyle declares, “There is no wind in the desert!” Chuck gets suspicious, and asks who told him that. Lyle says he can’t remember.
Chuck grins. “I see.” And once again, instead of the two of them simply coming out and saying why they’ve wandered miles out into the desert, they both raise their canteens (“To the beads!”) and continue on their way.
That’s all for now. Come back next time for… well, more wandering through the desert, which is unfortunately all this movie is going to be about for the foreseeable future. Let me put it this way: The next few installments of this recap are going to separate the men from the boys.