`I'm So Excited!': Fasten your seatbelt for Almodóvar's raunchy flight of fancy

The experienced all-male crew of Peninsula Airlines flight 2549 reached a comfortable cruising altitude long before takeoff. They're not about to neglect their professional duties (or compelling sexual concerns) now, simply due to an impending catastrophic landing-gear failure.

Such is the situation in Spanish master Pedro Almodovar's outrageously funny "I'm So Excited!" ("Los Amantes Pasajeros"), opening Friday at the Regent Square.

Airplane-disaster parodies -- since 9/11/2001 in general, and last month's Asiana crash-landing in particular -- may not seem quite so hilarious as they once did. But the sheer raunchy audacity of this one must be seen (especially by the gay) to be appreciated (by the open-minded of all erotic persuasions).

With its demise in sight, flight 2549 to Mexico City is flying circles around Toledo while the pilots beg the control tower for an emergency runway. ("We're processing your request," is all they keep getting). The stewards, meanwhile, devote themselves to deceiving and making things cozy for their doomed passengers -- most of them sound asleep in economy class, thanks to muscle relaxers in their spiked drinks.

The problem is in business class, where slightly sharper passengers include a fugitive financier-embezzler (Jose Luis Torrijo), an Oprah-like media queen (Cecila Roth) -- formerly a dominatrix porn star called Miss Take -- and a psychic virgin (Carmen Machi). All of whom have a secret!

Pity -- and savor -- the crew: fabulously fey Fajas (Carlos Areces) keeps a portable altar in a briefcase and promises God he'll give up drinking, drugs and darkrooms if he gets through this alive. Chief steward Joserra (Javier Camara) is a compulsively truth-telling alcoholic. Joint-smoking Ulloa (Raul Arevalo) has a thing going with the bisexual co-pilot, who has a thing going with the heterosexual pilot. Making their tasks more difficult is the fact that the only functioning telephone on the plane is one by which the most intimate calls are broadcast for all to hear on the loudspeaker.

All in all, it's a cockpit confidential rundown of everybody's sex lives and infidelities, on and off the ground, involving somnambulistic copulation and the most constantly and noisily "occupied" lavatory in aviation history.

Piece de resistance? "Musicals killed true cabaret," says Joserra before launching himself and his colleagues into their big song-and-dance rendering of the Pointer Sisters' funky 1982 hit signature song, "I'm So Excited" -- with crazily cramped choreography. These guys are terrific. So is the little opening cameo featuring the director's longtime favorites, Penelope Cruz and Antonio Banderas.

Mr. Almodovar, after all, is only the greatest Spanish filmmaker since Luis Bunuel, and this sex farce-spoof is based on his favorite theme: sexuality -- namely, deviant sexuality -- as motivational device. We last saw it in his creepy "The Skin I Live In" (2011), a twisted tale of kidnapping, rape, and mad-scientist vaginoplasty, starring Mr. Banderas as a reptilian doctor. Before that came "Broken Embraces" (2009), with Ms. Cruz in a perverse homage to Hitchcock's "Vertigo"-- a melancholy baby of a melodrama of l'amour fou.

Prior to that, it was "Volver" (2006), a black comedy and maternal mystery in which the living are preoccupied with the dead, and vice versa. Ms. Cruz won a well-deserved Oscar nomination for it. (When her mother in that film is asked why she decided to come back from the world of the deceased, she replies: "I got lonely.") In "Bad Education" (2004), transsexuality was at the heart of a tale of love, lust and deceit.

Mr. Almodovar has endless tolerance for the weird and aberrational -- everybody but the clergy. The pain in Spain falls mainly on the brain of those generations who suffered a half-century under fascist repression from the '30s-'80s. But his greatest films -- "Talk to Her" (2002) and "All About My Mother" (1999) -- are playful even when sorrowful.

This one is not among the greatest. But it is a wildly entertaining satire and great trashy fun, a bawdy comedy requiring a high tolerance for high camp. No matter how close he comes to the abyss, Mr. Almodovar's campy qualities always give way in the end to a soulful sort of Tennessee Williams sympathy for the doomed. I can't think of another working European director who has more influenced his own country -- and world film -- in recent decades. We and Spain are better off for his revolutionary creativity.

Fasten your seat belts, in "I'm So Excited!" for a mid-flight crisis to live or die for. But leave Aunt Thelmah at home.

(In Spanish with English subtitles.)


Subscribe to BarryParis.com RSS Feed