Ishtar (1987): a recap (part 7 of 9)
Previously on Ishtar: Chuck and Lyle, still on their walk through the desert that began roughly at the turn of the Pleistocene, stumbled upon a weapons auction, because if you roam around the desert in the Middle East long enough, you will inevitably happen upon Arab men bidding on shoulder-mounted rocket launchers. Lyle disguised himself as an Arab in search of water, but then Chuck was spotted and quickly pretended to be the auctioneer. And now, let the true comedy begin.
A group of stereotypical Arab men in flowing garments are gathered for the weapons auction, and it’s entirely likely these are the same guys who just came from bidding on Kim Basinger in a white slavery auction. A group of British men are selling them weapons, and the first items up for bid are a couple of Kalashnikov rifles.
Chuck is led in by the guy who spotted him, and introduced as “Hakir”, and Lyle, standing among the bidders, is stunned to see him. Another British guy tells Chuck that all the gathered “Berbers” speak different dialects, and they don’t understand any of them, and so they’re hoping “Hakir” does.
Chuck, still putting on a goofy “Arab” accent, replies, “Yaaays, I understand all Berber dialect!” They offer him “200 dirham” and Chuck immediately starts speaking in gibberish and pretending it’s a foreign language. But then an actual Arab guy working with the dealers comes up and greets Chuck and starts speaking to him in Arabic, and Chuck also responds to him with total gibberish. The guy knows he’s not speaking Arabic, so Chuck pretends he only knows Berber dialects, and knows no Arabic.
They want to know where he learned English, and so he makes up more words, saying his “sahkaro” sent him to school in Philadelphia. The weapons dealers don’t quite believe this story, and they walk off to talk amongst themselves. While they’re gone, Lyle looks at Chuck and then points to a big canteen, and Chuck stares at the canteen while licking his lips, thus indicating that he’s very thirsty.
Then the dealers return, and they want Chuck to tell the Berbers that he saw their camels being stolen on the other side of the truck. Chuck stalls for a while, so one of the guys puts a gun to his head, and Chuck immediately lets out a whole stream of nonsense, which starts with him screaming, “Ay-yi-yi!” and quickly goes downhill from there.
All the Berbers look confused. But Lyle is there in the crowd, and he obviously was able to hear the conversation leading up to this, so he pretends like he understood Chuck, and yells in gibberish to the other guys, and eventually manages to get all of them to follow him around to the other side of the truck. This convinces the dealers that Chuck actually did tell them their camels were being stolen.
Chuck pretends to translate what the Berbers are saying as they walk around the truck. “Some say, ‘Oh my God. What?’ Still others say, ‘But I just saw my camel. He was fine.’” The dealers say they had to test Chuck, because they’ve never heard of anyone who speaks all Berber dialects and English but doesn’t know any Arabic.
The one Arab guy still thinks Chuck is a fake, but they go ahead with the auction anyway. They want Chuck to tell the men that their weapons come “straight from the Saharawi desert”, and they’re better than the weapons the Americans are giving to the Ishtar army, because they’ve been “tested in battle”. They really want him to emphasize the whole “used-is-better-than-new idea”. And so, Chuck resumes screaming out Arab-sounding gibberish. And this is what this movie has finally degenerated to: jokes on the level of someone yelling “ching chong, ching chong” to imitate Chinese people.
Naturally, the guys in the crowd have no idea what Chuck is saying, and they look mystified and cover their ears. Chuck tells the dealers, “They say they could hardly believe their ears!” He also adds, “Do you really expect them to swallow such nach-nach?” He claims the men are now questioning the dealers’ “sanity”, because “First the camels, and now this!”
Then Chuck pretends that the Berbers want to know “when the water will be passed”, but is told to forget about the water and start the bidding. Chuck proceeds to yell out more gibberish that no one can understand, but then Lyle in the crowd starts waving around money and the Berbers figure out that the auction has started. Chuck asks for bids, and the “joke” is that he’s really just yelling in English but putting an accent on it, as he calls out amounts and Lyle responds with higher amounts.
And at one point during the stream of Middle Eastern-sounding nonsense, Chuck yells out, “Kareem Abdul? Kareem Abdul?” And Lyle hands over money as he responds with, “Abdul-Jabbar!” You see, it’s hilarious, because Kareem Abdul-Jabbar has a Muslim-sounding name! And… he’s… Muslim. Well, at least they’re actually attempting to be funny here, which is more than I can say for the twenty or thirty minutes leading up to this.
Back in the CIA surveillance van, everyone’s still fast asleep, until the agent monitoring the computer notes that the blip representing the two guys has stopped moving. Jim Harrison says, “Right on schedule.” Thinking that Chuck and Lyle have finally dropped dead as planned, he gets on the radio to one of his agents, who’s currently in a helicopter flying over the desert. This is the agent previously known as Cop Mustache, and he’s now wearing a suit, which makes him look uncannily like one of the Beastie Boys in their “Sabotage” video.
Harrison tells him to move in on Chuck and Lyle’s position, and it seems they’re still tracking the guys via that solid silver beeper. The chopper then arrives at their location, and Sabotage Guy and the chopper pilot are bewildered when they see a weapons auction instead of a dead Chuck and Lyle.
The auction comes to an abrupt end as the helicopter approaches, and all the dealers drive away, and the Berbers jump on their camels and ride away as quickly as possible. This leaves only Chuck and Lyle (and their blind camel, of course), and they excitedly yell and wave at the chopper, thinking they’re about to be rescued. Sabotage Guy realizes Chuck and Lyle aren’t nearly as dead as they thought, and tells the pilot to get them out of here.
The chopper takes off and an oblivious Chuck yells, “Shit! They didn’t see us!” And then Lyle says they never got any water, either, but Chuck points out the dealers left behind a crate full of weapons. He’s sure the guns and rockets and grenades might be worth a “couple of canteens” to somebody. Lyle points out the absurdity of dragging weapons around the desert in the hopes of finding someone who will exchange them for water, but Chuck knows the CIA is looking for them, and they just need to “stay alive for a couple of days” until they’re found.
And that brings us to a crowded street in Ishtar, where a van covered in loudspeakers is driving around, blasting announcements in whatever language they speak in Ishtar, and there are pictures of the Emir everywhere. Military men walk in formation as we again hear the same damn announcement about a military curfew being in effect in Ishtar. But at least now I know what I said before is true; they actually do just blast this announcement on every street corner 24 hours a day.
Back at the Emir’s palace, Jim Harrison is once again meeting with the Emir, and it seems there’s something resembling a joke here, in that Harrison is using a cane to get around, and he has a cast on his foot because of the injury he sustained when the blind camel was standing on his foot. The Emir is in a panic about the imminent coup, but Harrison assures him the CIA will keep him safe. However, the Emir recalls how the Americans once tried to keep “Anwar Sadat” and “the Shah” safe, which didn’t work out too well for either of them. Sheesh, one tiny little assassination or two, and they never let you forget it.
He wants to know if the “two messengers of God” are dead yet, because he wants to announce their deaths tonight. Harrison says they may not be able to swing that, because the CIA wants their deaths to appear to be from “natural causes”. The Emir declares, “A bullet in the desert is not unnatural!” He reminds Harrison that these two men are his enemies, just as “Libya is yours”, and wants them killed by tonight. Harrison just says, “Yes, your Excellency!”
Next time: We’re still, yes, still in the midst of Chuck and Lyle wandering through the desert. The CIA will attempt once more to put them out of their (and our) misery, but will call it off yet again, leading to, you guessed it, more wandering. Yes, there’s just one recap segment left of the two men wandering around the desert, but will this writer be able to get through it without experiencing a total mental breakdown? Tune in next time to find out!