Ishtar - Director’s Cut
Elaine May is one of the most underrated of all American filmmakers, a casualty of the fact that the auteurist cult of personality in effect during the 1970s at the American studios wasn’t really applied to women. Her "A New Leaf" was famously butchered, she was barred from making any changes to the script of "The Heartbreak Kid," and her "Mikey & Nicky," a true masterpiece, remains largely undiscovered. And everyone knows about "Ishtar." It’s supposed to be one of the worst movies ever made, shorthand for cinematic disaster, right? Wrong.
May always played around in the screwball genre, and here she goes full on: Warren Beatty and Dustin Hoffman star as two clueless lounge singers sent off to the Middle East - as performers, they think, but the government is using them for espionage. Anyway, the morons get so caught up in the labyrinth politics, giving weapons to their friends who then become their enemies, that eventually the whole thing culminates in giant explosions and disastrous firefights. (As the final images of May’s directorial career, they’re fitting.) I don’t think I need to say that it’s prescient, surprisingly or otherwise.
Sony’s Blu-ray offers up May’s director’s cut of the film, which is apparently three minutes shorter, though I’d be hard pressed to identify what seems missing. The image transfer is workable, and May’s visuals were never her strongest suit - that’s her writing. As a comedy, and as a semi-serious exploration of American-caused nonsense in the Middle East, "Ishtar" is fantastic - reputation be damned.