Exhaust Fumes
By Michael Koresky

I鈥檓 So Excited
Dir. Pedro Almod贸var, Spain, Sony Pictures Classics

Rarely has something so lofty felt so leaden as Pedro Almod贸var鈥檚 latest, a comedy that mostly takes place aboard an intercontinental flight, stuck circling over the ground because of a landing-gear malfunction. According to the director, in the typically copious explanatory guidelines he provides in interviews, this is intended as a metaphor for contemporary Spain, a country wracked by conservatism, scandal, and unemployment and therefore endlessly spinning in circles. A high concept only functions if it鈥檚 translatable to on-screen action, however, or to situational humor, as in the case of Almod贸var鈥檚 Los amantes pasajeros, rather optimistically re-titled I鈥檓 So Excited for American release. Whatever abstract political thoughts kept the film afloat in Almod贸var鈥檚 mind will be barely discernible to most viewers from under its laborious litany of limp gags and endless, deadly exposition. Almod贸var has stated that he considers this a throwback to the farces on which his reputation largely rests (鈥渁 return to the kind of comedy I used to do in the 鈥80s,鈥 he said in Pop Matters). Yet the recollection of his more effortlessly frolicsome films like Law of Desire and Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown only makes the forced farce of this one all the more glaring.

Initially, Almod贸var seems to have found amusing new methods of smuggling subversion into his gleaming, primary-colored brand of comedy. As the film opens, Antonio Banderas and Penelope Cruz appear as an adorably bungling couple of airport runway workers in blazing blue and yellow uniforms dealing with conventional dramatic elements (she announces she鈥檚 pregnant with his child!); soon, however, the plane takes off and the film leaves these characters, along with their hetero romcom rigmarole, in its exhaust. Once aboard, we鈥檙e introduced to the film鈥檚 main players, a crew of aggressively drawn eccentrics en route to Mexico City, both stewards and passengers, all holed up in the first-class cabin while those nestled in coach, knocked out on tranquilizers administered by airline staff (because, why not?), remain offscreen. Our main characters aren鈥檛 so much vividly drawn as splattered in the frame like paint globs: a haughty actress and former high-priced dominatrix (Cecilia Roth, many years and facelifts away from her lovely work in All About My Mother); a middle-aged two-timing soap star (a dull Guillermo Toledo, whose dead-end narrative arc is given far too much screen time); a man of industry (Jos茅 Luis Torrijo) being investigated for financial malfeasance; a mysterious Mephistopheles (Jos茅 Mar铆a Yazpik) in a skinny black tie; a studly newlywed and drug mule (Miguel 脌ngel Silvestre) smuggling mescaline in his asshole; and meek clairvoyant Bruna (Lola Due帽as), who鈥檚 been hired to aid the Mexico City police in locating missing corpses.

More important to the ribald tenor of the plot, all-seeing Bruna also predicts she will lose her long-held virginity before the flight ends. Almod贸var鈥檚 party of moneyed miscreants has been assembled for a single-set sex romp that ultimately is about as agreeable as a quick fuck in a teeny-weeny airplane restroom. After learning that their flight has been rerouted and is now hovering 30,000 feet in the air, with the terrifying possibility that they may never land at all, inhibitions are thrown to the high-altitude winds. Guiding them along their path to mescaline-fueled sexual liberation are three flamboyantly gay stewards (Carlos Areces, Ra煤l Ar茅valo, and Talk to Her鈥檚 Javier C谩mara) in creaseless, slim-fitting uniforms, who offer catty remarks, one lip-synched Pointer Sisters performance, and inappropriate sexual innuendo, ultimately proving I鈥檓 So Excited to be the kind of film made for those who emit delighted 鈥渢ee-hees鈥 at the mere mention of a penis.

The film鈥檚 incessant insistence that it鈥檚 offering the viewer sheer unadulterated pleasure grows wearisome. As the film trudges along, there鈥檚 an encroaching realization that despite his dramatic change of scenery, and the potentially fascinating limitations that come with that new location, Almod贸var is just using the occasion to fall back into well-trod territory. That Almod贸var insists on rehashing his preoccupations would not be a problem if they weren鈥檛 often so cinematically, or even at times ethically, dubious: in this case, that means endless bouts of numbing exposition (everyone on-board has a past, and they are definitely going to tell us all about them); a self-satisfied, unpersuasively sitcom-like portrayal of omnisexuality (the masculine, married, but bicurious pilots played by Antonio de la Torre and Hugo Silva, go cock-crazy after one cocktail); and a disturbingly romanticized attitude about nonconsensual sex鈥攏ot one but two people, a woman and a very young man, are hilariously raped while narcotized.

Almod贸var has attributed news-worthy heft and cited artistic precedent to all this concentrated, controlled anarchy (he claims in Slate that the film reflects the corruption and megalomania of the banks and financiers in Spain today; while he checks the ironic 1950s comedy of Luis Garcia Berlanga as an inspiration in a Sight & Sound interview), so perhaps the seeming inanity of I鈥檓 So Excited is a case of cinema lost in translation. But there鈥檚 nevertheless something disconcerting about the director justifying his desperately outr茅 confection on political grounds. (His post-Franco eighties films had a more tenable political basis.) As shot by Jos茅 Luis Alcaine and infectiously scored by Alberto Iglesias, the film has the zippy, glossy feel one may recognize from all of the director鈥檚 recent films, which makes it appear particularly at odds with the grungier work he wants to hearken back to. As dramatized, the flight is neither a tenable escape from reality nor an effective metaphor for entrapment鈥攖he point, along with the laughs, seems to exist only in its maker鈥檚 mind. Rather than an elating comic comeback from one of our most celebrated filmmakers, I鈥檓 So Excited feels like a desperate stab at vanished youth, recalling nothing so much as late-period John Waters.