The latest in our series of writers defending maligned films is an ode to Elaine May’s lambasted 1987 flop starring Warren Beatty and Dustin Hoffman It’s a rare movie bomb that’s such a catastrophe it becomes a byword for cinematic failure. Ishtar, Elaine May’s 1987 comedy about two musicians who become wrapped up in a CIA plot in north Africa, is one of the lucky few. Negative buzz trailed the film, made on an at-the-time grossly inflated $51m budget, from troubled production to release. Bad box office (final losses came to about $40m) followed savage reviews – typified by Roger Ebert writing that it was “a lifeless, massive, lumbering exercise in failed comedy” – and Ishtar quickly became a punchline. A Far Side comic strip would depict “Hell’s video store” as one which stocked nothing but copies of the film. When Kevin Costner’s Waterworld itself went off the rails in the mid-90s, the press mockingly dubbed it “Fishtar”, a familiar shorthand for Hollywood profligacy in service to a true creative folly.
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