Warren Beatty stars as Lyle Rogers, a dimwitted songwriter who befriends and partners with Chuck Clarke (Dustin Hoffman), who is only slightly more intelligent but every bit as untalented. Together the duo dreams of becoming a big-time lounge act.
Chuck becomes suicidal, but just when it seems they'll never strike it rich, the boys are offered a shady gig at a North African hotel, entertaining US troops stationed in the tiny nation of Ishtar. On their way to accept the job, Lyle, Chuck, and their blind camel are sidetracked by a mysterious woman (Isabelle Adjani) and a scheming CIA agent (Charles Grodin), who are involved in a rebellion against the country's emir.
The memorable songs crafted by Chuck and Lyle were written by actor and composer Paul Williams.