It's the first half of Ishtar that is the problem. If you can just work your way through that, it gets better. The whole torture of that first hour, the awfulness of Rogers and Clarke's songs, their absolute lack of upward career trajectory--it even gets paid off when Clarke breaks down in the desert and asks, "What have I done with my life, Lyle?" And Ebert calls the desert sequence pointless. The desert sequence is the point. It's the answer to the question of the first half...
Specifically, look at where the movie begins and ends. The same song in both places.
Telling the truth can be dangerous business;
Honest and popular don't go hand in hand.
If you admit that you play the accordion,
No one will hire you in a rock 'n' roll band.
But we can sing our hearts out.
And, if we're lucky, then no neighbors complain.
Because life is the way we audition for God.
Let us pray that we all get the job.
It's trite. It's simplistic. But, it's oddly true. These two guys are exactly who they want to be. Except, the world doesn't like them, their women leave them, and they cannot make it as songwriters. But, they can still prevent a war just by being themselves. This movie is at once the greatest argument for giving up on your useless dreams when you have failed time and time again, and an indictment of the idea that you should ever give up who you are. But look at the compromises they make. For each other. For an attractive woman. For a potential peace. They defer their dreams until they can manipulate the system to give them what they want. They have their cake and eat it too, as it were.
I mean, who needs a woman who won't stick with you because your dreams aren't panning out? (Or a man.) Who needs an audience that won't listen to you, when--and this is increasingly true with the Internet and social media--you can just find another audience? You can do anything you want; you have to put your mind to it. A bullshit saying that is more true everyday. But, on the Internet (or on reality television) you can get pretty damn far with some ego and a little bit of charisma. Don't need actual skills. Don't need real talent or something useful for the masses. Hell, I write a blog about movies and barely say anything useful most of the time. But, a little promotion and I could have a whole lot more readers than I've got now, I could turn this into something lucrative. Or I could be president. I mean, you tell your kid they could be president someday, and now there is literally no reason for anyone to not be good enough for that office; we lowered the bar to the ground on that one. Inherit a bunch of money, fail at a bunch of businesses, and for some reason, a whole lot of people will still love you later. Lie all the time and say horrible things about people just because you can, a whole lot of people will still love you later. Make a bad movie, though... Direct Ishtar (and be a woman) and you will never (or barely ever) work in Hollywood again. The world is unfair but sometimes it's unfair in your favor. Tweet the right thing at the right time and you will become famous for a while. Maybe fifteen minutes. Maybe until the next trending tweet distracts everyone from the distraction that was you.
But, speak out, speak up, be yourself, or be someone else. Do what you want to do... I'd add but not at the expense of others but we all know that's just my bleeding heart liberal bullshit talking; you can climb over whoever you want to reach the top and you'll be applauded for it as much as, if not more than, you'll be spit upon. Because we're all just a bunch of assholes a good part of the time, and we love a good asshole who can manage to get ahead. Nice guys finish last, and all that. Nice girls too. Nice men. Nice women. Nice whatever you want to call yourself. The world don't like nice. We actually do need a show called Real Moments in the Lives of Assholes and Smartasses. It would be the most popular show ever. We love an asshole. Especially a lovable asshole, but really any asshole who can do shit better than we can, or who has more money than we do. We're suckers for simplistic measures of personal worth. Which just makes us bigger assholes.
And, we back into our corners. And we lash out. And we lash out. And we bleed. And we die. And then we do it again. Because en masse, we can't learn a lesson to save our lives. Literally.
And, I know I talk in circles, that I contradict arguments I've made previously. I preach peace and love and denounce the violent, then I preach violence and anger and denounce the pacifist. Sort of. Mostly, I just talk about movies. A political satire like Ishtar, though--a slightly misguided, very uneven piece about how America manipulates the other countries and peoples of the world to its own ends, even when it's (led by) a talentless hack who can barely spell or put together a complete sentence... Or write a song worth singing. Telling the truth can be dangerous business. But, so can lying through your teeth be. Honest and popular don't go hand in hand. No shit. No one wants to hear the truth, especially when it's ugly. We want a snake oil salesman to tell us how great we are, how easily we could be greater. We want a madman to tell us that They are out to get us, and if we could just unite and destroy them, we will be glorious.