By Steve Persall
Times Movie Critic
Over the past 15 years or so, Pedro Almodovar achieved what the first half of his career didn't exactly promise: a level of respectability that only comes with mainstream acclaim. But the most celebrated Spanish filmmaker not named Luis Bunuel didn't begin collecting Academy Awards and gushing tributes until he toned down the brazen sexual irreverence of his early works.
From the Oscar-winning All About My Mother through The Skin I Live In, Almodovar's movies mostly turned serious, although still recognizable as his creations through gaudy palettes and femme-centric themes. They weren't as kinky as Matador and Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!, or pervasively strange as Kika. Almodovar matured from cinematic bad boy to august auteur, and simply wasn't as much fun.
The old Almodovar resurfaces with I'm So Excited, a glossy romp chock full of recreational sex, drugs and Pointer Sisters lip-synching. The artist is looking back at his impetuous creative youth, hosting a reunion of past exuberances and actors, cramming them into a jet airliner's fuselage and turning it into a martini shaker. It's fun but at this stage of Almodovar's career seems pointless and beneath him.
I'm So Excited begins with cameos by Almodovar's two most famous exports to U.S. cinema, Oscar winner Penelope Cruz and Antonio Banderas. She's a luggage cart driver at a Madrid airport; he's a runway worker whose negligence puts the flight in danger after takeoff. The landing gear is stuck, and no runways can be cleared for an emergency landing.
The flight crew slips mickeys to passengers flying cheaper in coach, knocking them out for the entire movie while privileged first class passengers sweat. A flamboyantly gay trio of attendants (Javier Camara, Raul Arevalo and Carlos Areces) make it their duty to keep passengers entertained — lip-synching the title song is a highlight — and distracted with tequila shots, mescaline cocktails and mile high club encounters.
Subplots emerge, tenuously strung together with biting gossip. One of the attendants is having an affair with the married pilot (Antonio de la Torre), and his very hetero co-pilot (Hugo Silva) is interested in the details. A psychic (Lola Duenas) claims to smell death on select passengers, an actor (Guillermo Toledo) wants to make amends with a former lover (Paz Vega). It's nothing that a flurry of openly enthusiastic sex and a clear runway can't solve.
I'm So Excited is an interesting diversion for Almodovar completists, yet hardly explains why he's so revered. It's a throwaway, a bawdy, tasteless lark from someone who should've gotten this stuff out of his system by now. Judging by these results, he did.
Steve Persall can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8365. Follow @StevePersall on Twitter.