The trailer for Pedro Almodovar’s I’m So Excited!, featuring three male flight attendants lip-synching to the Pointer Sisters’ I’m So Excited!, is exuberantly campy. Alas, it also represents the best minute of Almodovar’s new film, a sex farce that is a throwback to outré comedies of his earlier career (Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!). Back then, Almodovar’s erotic frankness and brilliant colour palettes were a declaration of liberation from post-Franco Spain.
Now, after a string of melodramas (Talk to Her, All About My Mother, Bad Education) and thrillers (Volver, The Skin I Live In), this return to the past feels more lazy than liberating.
An introductory scene at a Spanish airport features cameos from Penelope Cruz and Antonio Banderas, as the world’s prettiest ground crew, preparing a plane before its takeoff to Mexico, and triggering a problem that doesn’t become apparent until the plane is in the air. The wheels are jammed and the plane will have to make a forced landing when an airport becomes available.
As an initial precaution, the flight crew drugs everyone in economy class, reducing the dramatic personae down to the pilot, co-pilot, three attendants and seven passengers. From there on, the movie’s pretty much an adult version of Airplane! with fewer puns and more fellatio.
The three gay flight attendants include the compulsively honest Joserra (Javier Camara), the tart-tongued booze-and-pill addict, Ulloa (Raul Arevalo), and the endearingly repressed Fajas (Carlos Areces), who carries a portable altar with him at all times. The handsome macho pilot, Alex (Antonio de la Torre), and co-pilot, Benito (Hugo Silva), are nominally straight, although this becomes more doubtful the longer the plane circles.
On the passenger side, we have a collection of eccentrics: a psychic virgin, Bruna (Lola Duenas), who wanders into the first-class cabin; Norma (Cecilia Roth), a famous dominatrix to Spain’s political and business elite; Senor Mas (Jose Luis Torrijo), a corrupt developer; a honeymooning couple carrying a pharmacy full of party pills (Miguel Angel Silvestre and Laya Marti); a mystery man in a dark suit (Miguel Angel Silvestre); and a soap opera star, Ricardo (Guillermo Toledo). Largely, they remain as two-dimensional as the kind of disaster movie Almodovar uses as his template.
Fortunately, the soap actor’s relationship problems provide an opportunity for the film to take a brief digression out of the cabin back to ground level. Ricardo is worried about an unstable painter girlfriend (Paz Vega), but it is only possible to make phone calls through the public-address system. When he calls her, everyone can hear their conversation. Then, when her dropped iPhone ends up in the bicycle basket of another former girlfriend (Blanca Suarez), the passengers and crew are privy to his complicated love life and quick to offer advice.
Revelations tumble forth as the Valencia cocktails are poured, mescaline is ingested, and attractions are consummated. Yet, without the distractions of booze, pills and other inflight entertainment, we sit like stranded passengers, waiting for a runway to clear to bring this monotonous frivolity to a close. I’m So Excited! might have been saucy around the time the Pointer Sisters song came out in 1982. Now, it just feels like it’s coasting on fumes.