THE STORY - Ishtar script synopsis
Two very tenacious, past-their-prime & talent-challenged songwriters, Lyle Rogers (Warren Beatty) & Chuck Clarke (Dustin Hoffman) meet by chance in a New York City restaurant. Beginning right then and there, and getting together whenever they can, they create amazingly banal songs such as 'Dangerous Business', 'Software', 'Wardrobe Of Love' & 'That A Lawnmower Can Do All That'. Determined to have them heard, unashamably comparing them to the work of Simon & Garfunkel & others, they decide to go for it, & in the process lose both their girlfriends. Their first misguided step to stardom is securing a booking agent named Marty Freed (Jack Weston).
Meeting up with Freed at The Song Mart club's talent night, Freed convinces them that songwriting should take a back seat to performing, as this same advice he gave to Tony Bennett worked for him. After deep introspection (well, as deep as they could, anyway...), Rogers & Clarke accept a booking through Freed in the turbulent north African country Morocco, neighbour to the even more turbulent Ishtar.
CUT TO NORTH AFRICA: Out in the dunes, two archaeologists finally discover an ancient map they'd been searching for which will question & therefor threaten Ishtar's status quo. The two soon realize their plans are being listened to, & fighting breaks out in their camp. The elderly archaeologist is murdered, but the younger barely escapes with the map. He returns to his home, fearfully sewing the map into something for safe keeping. As he's on the telephone with his sister, Shirra Assel (Isabelle Adjani), explaining what's happened, he is attacked & killed for the map, all in vain.
Because Chuck's & Lyle's plane must land in Ishtar, their trip proves to be an adventure from the very beginning. In fact, everything takes a spy movie twist at the airport minutes after they disembark. Chuck is approached by a mysterious young woman (only realizing her gender after mistaking her for a young man making a sexual advance), Shirra Assel. Shirra explains she's a member of an organization that has vowed to bring justice back to Ishtar & that she fears her life is in danger. This, of course, appeals to the romantic hero in Chuck, who hands over his passport & trades jackets & luggage with Shirra, convinced by her that the American Embassy will help him out.
Lyle, who was off getting snacks & drinks, returns after Chuck's & Shirra's exchange & is flabbergasted to hear Chuck's explanation that his jacket & passport had been stolen. They quickly head over to the American Embassy where it's explained there is little chance of help with a new passport, let alone Chuck finding his luggage. Chuck, it seems, is stranded in Ishtar, & Lyle must go to Morocco to perform their booking solo.
While Lyle is settling into the hotel in Morocco, Chuck is approached by an American, Jim Harrison (Charles Grodin). Jim buys Chuck lunch & explains he's with the CIA. After asking Chuck for his autograph, Jim tells Chuck to keep the pen he just used. Jim then helps Chuck get a new passport & out of Ishtar.
After this meeting Jim meets with Ishtar's Emir Yousef (Aharon Ipale) & the two discuss what repercussions may come from Chuck Clarke giving Shirra Assel his passport & luggage. The Emir does not officially admit to having spies or who his friends & enemies are, but convinces Jim that this very suspicious activity must be examined closely.
At the Chez Casablanca night club, meanwhile, Lyle tries hard to entertain the crowd with Simon & Garfunkel songs, receiving boos & jeers. Chuck arrives just in time to perform 'That's Amore' & the crowd's attitude turns around. Ending with their first standing ovation, the boys are elated. Chuck explains to Lyle he needs to unwind with a walk & Lyle heads back to their hotel room. Chuck actually has a rendezvous with Jim Harrison, who then explains the pen given is actually a tracking device & that Chuck is now working for the CIA. Chuck tries to hand back the pen & reject the situation, but is won over by the cash offered.
Lyle is in bed when a mysterious person enters the room & attempts to steal Chuck's luggage. Lyle jumps out of bed & prevents the thief from escaping. He soon learns this thief is a woman, Shirra Assel, & that she convinced Chuck to trade clothing & luggage & to give her his passport to help return justice to her country, & that Chuck has been recruited by the CIA. Lyle listens and, once won over, he agrees to help by seeking out Mohammed in a camel market the next day. He then lets her go.
Chuck eventually returns to the hotel room & hides his CIA cash behind a painting, which Lyle watches from the corner of his eye, pretending to be asleep. The next morning, Chuck leaves & is semi-clandestinely followed by Lyle. Both are oblivious of the handful of agents from various organizations following them in turn. Lyle is soon discovered by Chuck & their relationship takes on a suspicious turn. Lyle explains he'd like to go to a market & Chuck tags along, the two using a taxi driven by a young local named Abdul (Fijad Hageb). Abdul leads them around & helps them narrowly escape capture and/or death by various assassins.
Anxious to find answers, Lyle is quickly in possession of many items from the market, including clothing, souvenirs, & a blind camel. Suspecting the camel may have been a bad purchase, Lyle & Chuck begin to realize something has gone terribly wrong. Chuck tells Lyle to cover himself up to escape possible recognition from the enemies they now have convinced themselves may be looking for them, all the while not fully admitting to each other who each has been dealing with. Lyle takes off down an alley & tries putting on a turban. Shirra appears out of nowhere. While helping him with his disguise, she hands him some special glowing beads. She tells Lyle to escape with Chuck to the desert, leaving a trail of these beads behind them. They will, she explains, glow during the night & help them find refuge back to the town. Lyle Has no choice but to accept them.
Chuck, in the meantime, is approached by Jim Harrison again. Jim warns Chuck of danger from enemy organizations & that his & Lyle's best chances are out in the desert. Chuck listens carefully & agrees to take Lyle out to the oasis Jim suggests. Lyle returns from finishing his disguise & the two head out to the sands, while Jim heads off with a broken foot caused by the blind camel.
Jim again meets with Emir Yousef & it's quickly determined Chuck & Lyle must meet an 'unatural death by bullet' in order to prevent an uprising that would surely occur if the map that they may have gets into the wrong hands.
Walking across the desert, Chuck & Lyle make light conversation about where they're going & what they'll do about everything. The CIA is, of course, tracking & listening to them via the pen Jim gave to Chuck, waiting for them to collapse. To the amazement of the CIA crew, Chuck & Lyle prove beyond a doubt what simpletons they are.
The boys soon experience the thrills of sand storms & vultures, all while accompanied by their blind camel. Here they finally admit to each other what's been going on.
Shirra reports back to her organization that Chuck & Lyle are out in the desert. Her assumption that the boys will meet a quiet death is soon shattered when her leader admits he has placed a bounty on their heads & that death will come regardless. Shirra's patience stretched too far, she quits the organization.
After a rough night out, Chuck & Lyle come across gunrunners disposing their goods. Chuck convinces Lyle to blend in, because of his disguise & the dye rubbing off it, in order to score some water. Chuck is soon mistaken for the auctioneer & heads into the group after Lyle, severely parched. Through much rambling & confusion, Chuck & Lyle get some guns sold, but not completely before the CIA arrive in a helicopter tracking them down. Threatened by the sight of the activity, the helicopter flees, informing Jim Harrison more firepower will be needed.
Chuck & Lyle are again abandoned, left with some weaponry from the gunrunners & their blind camel. On the verge of total dehydration, they begin hallucinating in search of water or the town, writing more songs & confessing all to each other. Lyle soon discovers something sewn into the inner lining of Chuck's jacket, which is being worn inside-out over Chuck's head for sun protection. Realizing it's the mysterious map, it finally hits them how far they've been misled & that this could be the end.
Just as all hope is gone, the CIA helicopter returns along with a gunship helicopter to finish our heros off. Armed with the weapons, Chuck & Lyle decide to fight to the death, singing & smiling about their adventures. And, wouldn't you know it, Shirra Assel arrives in Abdul's taxi, both prepared to help the boys out. The four of them fire machine guns & rocket launchers at the attacking helicopters, which depart faster than they arrived.
The tables turn: Chuck & Lyle's agent, Marty Freed, informs the CIA that IF they have the sought-after map, the CIA will have to finance recording & promoting a live album by Rogers & Clarke in exchange for the map. The CIA agrees, & the movie closes with performances by our heros while recording their album.
The credits roll.
'Warren Beatty & Dustin Hoffman pool their musical talents & hit the high road to laughter in the outrageous comedy, ISHTAR. Searching for success in the Big Apple's Chuck Clarke (Hoffman) & Lyle Rogers (Beatty) stumble across down-and-out agent Marty Freed (Jack Weston). Once Freed hears a few of their original songs, like "I'm Quitting High School'' & "Wardrobe of Love", he is sure of one thing. These struggling songwriters should go far-as far away as possible! So they are swept off to magical, mysterious Morocco with a short layover in the political powdering of ISHTAR. But ISHTAR turns out to be more than a layover when the two suddenly find themselves caught in a crossfire between Shirra (Isabella Adjani), a beautiful left-wing revolutionary, & Jim Harrison (Charles Grodin), an overzealous CIA agent. Now suddenly the fate of the entire Middle East is in the hands of two men who can't even carry a tune! Pursued by spies of every stripe, adored by legions of deliriously indiscriminating fans, Rogers & Clark ride a multi-national hit list straight to the top of the charts in the comic misadventure, ISHTAR.'
'Clarke & Rogers (Hoffman & Beatty) are two mediocre composers & without luck, desperately needing money. Following the advice of their agent, they embark on a tour near the mystical republic of Ishtar. When they arrive, our heroes are recruited, one after another, as spies on opposing fronts of a revolution that is nearing it's peak. Worse still, Clarke & Rogers, now spies & musicians, are soon left in the desert, in the company of a blind camel, several assassins of 'the company' (CIA) & competing for the love of a beautiful revolutionary (Isabel Adjani).'