With its zillion-$ price-tag, starry names and troubled history, lots of folks are waiting for the word on "Ishtar," which opened Friday.
They weren't all in at press time, but we culled what we could.
We had trouble finding raves. That is, we found none . . . although Newsweek's David Ansen gave it a smile-a-lot assessment: "Silly-funny, clever-funny, sometimes witty-funny, the kind of movie you smile at a lot and leave thinking, hey, that was a pleasant $5 worth of fun."
More common were the pans:
Chicago Sun-Times' Roger Ebert (who gave it a half star--out of four stars): "A truly dreadful film, a lifeless, massive, lumbering exercise in failed comedy."
S.F. Chron's Judy Stone: "A clear case of the blind leading the blind can be made with 'Ishtar,' a $43-million misguided missile. No one can blame a blind camel for not knowing the way to Mecca, but the question does arise as to how such a witty writer-director as Elaine May and two pros like Warren Beatty and Dustin Hoffman can mistake a mirage for a viable movie."
Hollywood Reporter's Duane Byrge: "Colossally dunderheaded."
Tom Girard, Daily Variety: "One can't help but wonder if the camel was the only blind creature who had something to do with this."
Kathleen Carroll, NY Daily News: "A half-baked comedy that somehow turned into a runaway ego trip."
Peter Rainer, Her-Ex: "A skimpy excuse for an epic comedy. It's a piffle with a $40-million-plus price-tag. I bring up the budget not because I think critics should be in the business of cost accountancy, but because that price seems so out of line with the film makers' modest, mild-mannered ambitions. It's as if Cecil B. DeMille took on a Hope-Crosby 'Road' movie."
Back to some kinder--if mixed--comments:
L.A. Daily News' Kirk Honeycutt: "May has an over-the-edge sense of silly humor that works beautifully--but not in every scene. Some sequences click perfectly. Others just clunk. . . . Yet in the set pieces--the big comic moments May is aiming for--she hits her stride: In these moments, slapstick and satire meet."
Dave Kehr, Chicago Trib: " 'Ishtar' is a good movie, but you can't help but wonder if, lurking somewhere in those cans of outtakes, there isn't a great movie, too. May took 10 years to produce her definitive 'Mikey and Nicky,' and that movie is a masterpiece. Perhaps, in 10 years time, there will be another, finer 'Ishtar.' "
Time's Richard Schickel: "Laughter can choke on such wretched excess." But: "Reasonably genial and diverting."
You may have heard of a memorable "Ishtar" scene in which some vultures (trained, of course) upstage the film's $6-million (plus) stars. Rainer of the Her-Ex noted: "If people in the audience want to tote up the prices of the co-stars versus the vultures, who can blame them?"