Sony Pictures Classics
Rated R for strong sexual content including crude references, and drug use.
Running time: 95 minutes.
Three stars out of four.
In theory, any new Pedro Almodovar film, even a fluffy, silly one, is better than none at all _ a notion that the Spanish master pushes to extremes in “I’m So Excited!”
His latest film, which harkens to his earliest work, is essentially a gay “Airplane!”; similarly, it has an exclamation point in its title to play up its knowingly over-the-top nature. It’s essentially what “Airplane!” would have been like if all the flight attendants were Johnny, the flamboyant tower employee played with scene-stealing brio by the late Stephen Stucker.
“I’m So Excited!” represents a huge departure from the brooding, serious, melodramatic tones of more recent offerings like “The Skin I Live In” and “Talk to Her.” But it’s also a return, as so many of his movies have been, to several of the actors with whom he’s worked before, including an amusing, blink-and-you’ll-miss it cameo off the top from Antonio Banderas and Penelope Cruz.
So if you’re a hardcore Almodovar fan, will you be satisfied? Not exactly. Tickled, perhaps, but with a longing for more _ because you know he has so much more in him. Still, the craftsmanship and artistry are without question; despite the film’s playfulness, it’s still quite clear that we’re in the hands of a master who takes the work seriously, if not the material or his characters. Almodovar’s lark of a bawdy comedy takes place in a tightly confined space and it not only moves, it radiates color, energy and life _ even as the passengers seem headed for certain death.
Because of a mechanical problem, Peninsula Airways Flight 2549 is circling in the skies above Toledo, Spain, rather than heading toward its destination of Mexico City. So yes, the melodrama that marks so many Almodovar films exists here, as well, but it comes in the form of family secrets and romantic betrayals played for laughs.
Booze, blow jobs and bitchy men fuel the sky-high hijinks: a trio of glib and gluttonous flight attendants played winningly by Javier Camara, Carlos Areces and Raul Arevalo. Their response to this dire situation: tequila shots. Even the seemingly buttoned-down pilot and co-pilot (played by Antonio de la Torre and Hugo Silva, respectively) are more adventurous then they look.
Ostensibly, though _ if you choose to think and dig below the druggy, candy-colored surface _ “I’m So Excited!” also intends to serve as social satire about repression, about class distinction. One character (Jose Luis Torrijo) is a swindling bank executive on the run who laments losing touch with his daughter. Another is a high-class madam (played by the formidable Cecilia Roth) who reportedly has salacious, damning videos of 600 of the most famous and powerful men in the world. These are wealthy people trapped in business class, doing laps in the sky, awaiting their eventual doom. Meanwhile, the hoi polloi in coach has been drugged so they have no clue what’s happening – they’re sleepy sheep being led to the slaughter. Is either of these situations preferable?
Lively as Almodovar’s film is, it also features gags that grow repetitive or go on too long, like the flight attendants’ campy lip sync performance to the Pointer Sisters’ tune that provides the film’s English-language title. (In the original Spanish, it’s known as “Los amantes pasajeros.”) Like, the entire song.
Now if only I could pry it from my brain _ where it’s doing laps, seemingly without end _ I’ll be just fine.