Over the course of 30 years, Pedro Almodóvar's movies have been kinky, strange, melodramatic and entertaining often in the best of ways, but "I'm So Excited" delivers all those ingredients gone wrong. The director's campy airborne sex romp is exactly that -- a gleefully over-the-top celebration of silliness too in love with its outrageous characters and premise to make them gel. Scene after scene features a self-satisfied kookiness akin to spending time with a terrible comic unwilling to give up the mic.
There's that famous E.B. White quote about analyzing comedy being akin to dissecting a frog -- "you understand it better but the frog dies in the process" -- but Almodóvar's movies are themselves typically deconstructive so the mandate need not apply here. Though it contains a cartoonish trajectory that suggests a sly reworking of simplistic genre tropes, "I'm So Excited" really is as dumb as it looks. There's a sitcom-like levity to the movie as it proceeds through its meandering plot, in which an ensemble of uptight characters rub up against each other on a disaster-riddled plane bound for Madrid. From the cheeky cameo involving Antonio Banderas and Peleope Cruz in the opening scene, "I'm So Excited!" announces itself as Almodóvar's goofiest comedic indulgence in years, but it's all downhill from there.
There are glimmers of great class parody in the director's brilliant set-up, which finds the entire economy class passed out on a muscle relaxant administered by the flamboyant gay flight attendants, leaving a small group of neurotic business class passengers to squabble and screw as the plane runs into a mechanical problems and careens toward imminent disaster. On paper and in terms of the bright images it offers up, "I'm So Excited" has the zany satiric edge akin to fifties-era Frank Tashlin comedies (see: "The Girl Can't Help It," "Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter?"), but Tashlin's movies were textured critiques, whereas Almodóvar has delivered an experience thoroughly skin-deep.
That's not to say that it lacks momentum. In fact, "I'm So Excited!" frequently has too much of it. The absurd passengers populating the plane include a sly hit man, a corrupt businessman (Guillermo Toledo), an ex-hooker (the divine Cecilia Roth), and a virginal psychic (Lola Dueña) who eventually rapes a sleeping passenger while the rest of her awake companions -- under the assumption that the end is night -- engage in various orgiastic endeavors. That moment arrives after a series of interlocking events including a relationship between one of the characters and a woman on the ground whose affections he still hopes to claim, but its complexities aren't rewarding enough to deserve further detailing here. The plane's phone is haplessly broken, broadcasting everyone's private conversations onto the loudspeaker, a device that holds some potential bur mainly just helps fill in the rest of the ensemble on various characters' private dramas.
Mostly, we're just stuck with the ranting and worrying of the passengers and the admittedly quite funny trio of ebullient stewards (Javier Cámara, Carlos Areces, and Raúl Arévalo) constantly attempting to placate them. Cámara's character is also sleeping with an outwardly straight, married pilot (Hugo Silva), one of several developments that find "I'm So Excited!" yearning to become a wake-up call to repressed pleasures with a musical spirit in the tradition of "Rocky Horror Picture Show." That's all well and good until one considers that "Rocky Horror Picture Show" wasn't that great to begin with -- but it still featured a lot more witty invention than Almodóvar's tepid approach, which contains a recurring bombardment of wackiness notable for its continuing lack of intelligence.
Consider the movie's lengthiest sequence, a coordinated song-and-dance rendition of the title song (by the Pointer Sisters) capably performed by the flight attendants. It's initially funny before leveling off and eventually growing tiresome, much like the rest of the movie. You can tell everyone had a blast making the thing, just as Almodóvar must have cracked himself up while juicing the screenplay with goofy one-liners ("When I was in the army, I had more blowjobs than an airbed").
But there's no there there, and Almodóvar's movies -- even the weaker examples -- tend to offer so many dense ingredients that one can spend repeat viewings peeling them apart and still come back for more. Consider his capacity for rejuvenating telenovela formulas with surreal, powerful and sometimes erotic twists: the elegance of "Talk to Her," the weirdness of "Matador," the unconventional screen chemistry of "Tie Me, Tie Me Down," the emotional depths of "Bad Education" and "Volver." Even lesser works like "The Skin I Live In" maintained Almodóvar's penchant for shocking twists and an immersive atmosphere.
In "I'm So Excited!," however, the search for meaning is a fruitless one. Almodóvar's extensive press notes, which have been printed in glossy magazine format, provide a superior experience to the movie. They include a provocative take on the scenario by the filmmaker, who suggests his conscious characters exist in the dream lives of sleeping passengers. Perhaps, but if "I'm So Excited" shows us Almodóvar's unconscious world, we're better off contending with the one that's awake.
Criticwire grade: C-