Ishtar (1987): a recap (part 6 of 9)

Previously on Ishtar: Chuck and Lyle came into possession of a blind camel, and learned the hard way that what people say is true: it’s easy to get lost in the desert. Shirra and Jim Harrison decided independently of each other that Chuck and Lyle needed to die, and so they tricked them into wandering out into the desert for forty days and forty nights, or at least, that’s what the remainder of this movie will feel like, and we’re still only getting started, folks.

Meanwhile, back in the smoked-filled den near the camel market, Shirra and her fellow revolutionaries are sitting around a table with Professor Barnes. Remember him? Of course you don’t. But he’s the British archaeologist who was there when Shirra’s brother originally found the map in part 2. His face is all scraped up and his arm is in a sling, so they might be holding him hostage, but that’s mostly a guess.


One terrorist, who I think is meant to be Shirra’s second-in-command, tells Barnes that they’re heading out to Ishtar in the morning, and they’re bringing Barnes with them. They’re planning to take over a “transmitter” where Number Two Terrorist Guy and another guy will do a broadcast pretending to be the “two messengers of God”, where they’ll promise the Shiites that if they rise up, the Emir of Ishtar will fall “as prophesied”. For some reason, they need Barnes there to “verify” what they say, whatever that entails.

Ishtar (1987): a recap (part 6 of 9)

But Barnes says he can’t do that without the map. Number Two Terrorist Guy isn’t worried, however. He says that by the time people realize they don’t have the map, “Ishtar will be ours!” Or, you could save yourself a lot of trouble and just spend $1.25 to get it from the VHS bargain bin.

Barnes thinks they’ll all be “slaughtered” because the Emir’s men are “trained and equipped by the Americans”, and this conversation goes on and on, and I’m probably not imparting just how unbelievably boring this scene is. I mean, there’s literally no attempt to be funny here. In fact, all scenes with Shirra and her fellow revolutionaries are played deadly serious. It’s like the opposite of comic relief.

But it appears the entire point of this scene is for Number Two Terrorist Guy to mention they’ll have no trouble arming the Shiites, because “the desert is filled with dealers in black market arms!” Barnes warns they’ll be screwed if the “two Americans” survive, and so Number Two reveals that on top of making Chuck and Lyle walk into the desert, he also put a price of “20,000 dirham on their heads”.

Shirra is horrified to hear this, calling him a “murderer”. But he reminds her that, um, hello, she’s the one who had them wander out into the desert to die.

And that’s enough anti-comic relief for now, and it’s back to Chuck and Lyle in the desert. They’re sitting on their blind camel, which is currently resting in the sand. It’s later in the afternoon, and Lyle thinks it’s getting “nippy”. Chuck points out that the golamine beads aren’t glowing, but Lyle says that’s because it’s not dark yet. And then the camel lets out what sounds like a loud belch.

Ishtar (1987): a recap (part 6 of 9)

Abruptly, Lyle freaks out, because he just now realized they’re going to miss their show tonight. They’re supposed to be lounge singers, remember? Remember when they performed their show at the Chez Casablanca and all the tourists loved it? We were all so much younger then. Chuck reacts in an unfunny, overdramatic way, and Lyle thinks it’s all over for them and they’re going to get “blackballed” and they’ll “never work in Morocco again!”

Chuck blames Lyle for their predicament, and then Chuck blames Lyle, and then Lyle says that everybody’s trying to kill them because Chuck is a spy. Chuck yells back that everyone’s trying to kill them because Lyle knows where “Shirra Assel’s map is!”

Lyle responds, “Who is Shirra Assel Smap?”And yes, that is a joke you can only detect with the subtitles turned on. Chuck thinks Lyle is just playing “sucker games”, but apparently Lyle didn’t know Shirra’s name until this very moment. Chuck doesn’t believe this, since Lyle supposedly spent a passionate half-hour with her in their hotel room. Lyle realizes who he’s talking about, and fires back that she must be the same woman who had Chuck’s jacket and passport that he supposedly “lost” in Ishtar.

Lyle says he doesn’t know anything about a map, because that would be Chuck’s “department”, since he’s taking money from the CIA. Chuck replies that he wanted that money for the both of them, but Lyle isn’t interested in being paid for keeping “a guy like the Emir of Ishtar in power!”

Chuck says, “Brown-nosing the commies won’t get you my girl.” Lyle insists that Shirra is really his girl, even though he didn’t know her name until a few seconds ago, and now they’re arguing over whose “girl” Shirra is, and Chuck calls him a “putz”. Lyle starts rubbing at his eyes, and Chuck thinks he’s crying. But no, some sand just blew in his eye.

A moment later, it sinks in with Lyle that sand just blew in his eye, meaning that contrary to what Shirra told him, there actually is wind in the desert. A big sandstorm hits, and Lyle yells, “This must be one of them once-in-a-lifetime things! Like the glaciers melting!” The wind causes the camel to suddenly stand up, and carry the two guys out of the frame.

Ishtar (1987): a recap (part 6 of 9)

Cut to the CIA surveillance van. That blip is still moving around erratically on a computer screen. One of the agents is taking notes about… something. But this bit is really just here to indicate the passage of time, because we return to Chuck and Lyle still caught in the sandstorm, and now it’s getting dark. And then it’s nighttime, and the moon is up. The CIA continues to monitor Chuck and Lyle’s loopy path. We find everyone in the van is asleep, except for one agent.

Ishtar (1987): a recap (part 6 of 9)

An actual photograph taken inside a theater showing Ishtar.

And that brings us to the next day. It seems Chuck and Lyle have survived the night in the desert, not looking much worse for wear. Well, Dustin Hoffman has some white makeup applied around his lips to make him look dehydrated, but that’s about it.

They’re riding the camel, and then it suddenly kneels down, totally not at the behest of its trainer standing just off-screen. The two guys get off the camel, and Chuck warns Lyle not to wipe his face with his gown, because the blue dye is coming off on his skin. Which makes him look like a giant, dumb Smurf. Somehow, Chuck knows the dye is “carcinogenic”, and this literally has nothing to do with anything.

They’re standing on a sand dune, and Chuck suddenly gets excited, and quietly tells Lyle to look. And right over the edge of the dune, there are people, and camels, and a canvas-covered truck.

The two men duck down, and Lyle wonders if it’s a “mirage”, but Chuck points out that they can both see it, so it can’t be a mirage. Of course, multiple people can see mirages, and they can even be captured on film, because “mirage” does not mean “hallucination”. More men ride up on camels, and Chuck tells Lyle to go down to the truck to see if he can get them some water. However, he’s afraid that all those government agents are still after them, so he tells Lyle to “act like an Arab” and not to speak, meaning he can only ask for water with “hand gestures”.

Ishtar (1987): a recap (part 6 of 9)

Lyle is reluctant, but he covers up his face and heads on down. Chuck watches him go, and then tries to quietly watch from atop the sand dune. But then a white guy with a British accent walks in his direction and yells out, “Hey you!” He asks if Chuck is the “auctioneer”, and it appears the two have accidentally stumbled onto one of those black market weapons auctions previously alluded to by Number Two Terrorist Guy. Chuck freezes for a moment, and then eventually calls back, “Yes!” in a goofy, vaguely “Arab” accent.

Join us next time, as the two guys have to pretend to be Arab, and bluff their way around not knowing any foreign languages by speaking complete gibberish. And it goes on for a solid ten or fifteen minutes and is about as painful as it sounds. The unbelievably tedious adventures of Chuck and Lyle wandering through the desert will continue!

Multi-Part Article: Ishtar: a recap

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