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"I'm So Excited"

A flight of fancy

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With a hard-earned reputation for flirting with outrageous and comical interpretations of sex, the Spanish director Pedro Almodóvar demonstrates in his new movie, "I'm So Excited," that the outrageousness and the comedy, without wit and invention, cannot sustain an entire film. A late work in a reasonably prolific and quite successful career, the picture seems like one long, very tired joke.

The director uses an age-old gimmick, probably dating as far back as "The Canterbury Tales," and in cinema, "Grand Hotel" — gather a disparate group of people in one place, going on the same journey, and let them interact and tell their stories. In this case, the place is an airplane on the way to Mexico, and the people are the first-class passengers. As in all those other airplane movies — serious ones like "The High and the Mighty" and "Airport," and parodies like "Airplane" — the pilots encounter a mechanical problem with their craft and must deal with it, and their passengers, throughout the film, which generates revelations among the characters and a series of repeated gags.

The one basic joke that motivates most of the others involves homosexuality, a subject the openly gay director frequently explores. The three flight attendants who handle first class — in an unexplained bit of business, all the passengers and attendants in economy class have been drugged asleep — begin the action with a campy exaggeration of the usual safety instructions, then throughout the film constantly discuss their sex lives, dwelling on particular partners and actions. The title itself in fact, which is decidedly not a translation from the Spanish title "Los Amantes Pasajeros," derives from a ridiculous musical bit in which the attendants lip sync the title song while performing an outlandish dance number.

Their partners and actions, it turns out, also involve both the captain and the copilot on an aircraft where every male in the crew is either gay or bisexual. In the cockpit, the captain and copilot join the stewards in numerous shots of tequila, which apparently doesn't distract them from maintaining the plane's course, but not a good advertisement for Spanish airlines.

In addition to the drinking and arguing about oral sex among the crew, a number of oddballs from the first-class cabin enter the cockpit and tell some strange stories of their own. A woman named Bruna (Lola Dueas) claims to be a psychic who smells death, which naturally unsettles the crew, and accurately predicts an ending in a sea of white clouds. A banker named Mr. Mas (José Luis Torrijo), fleeing the law for his financial misdeeds, informs everyone of the percentages of survival in a crash.

Determined to lose her virginity, Bruna first arouses, then seduces an unconscious young man in economy class. A dominatrix named Norma (Cecilia Roth), a frequent passenger who constantly complains about the airline, announces that she possesses videotapes of many important men enjoying her services — she later has sex, minus the sadomasochism, with a professional hit man hired to kill her (it's that kind of movie).

The mere existence of "I'm So Excited" demands some sort of explanation of why the director actually made it. The silliness, the reflexive triviality of its people and actions, the endless revelations of who exactly has performed oral sex with whom, the steadily decreasing level of wit make the whole work a farce with less depth than the average television situation comedy. Even the tacky uniforms of the crew and the set itself, from a director addicted to bright colors and possessing a genuine sense of style, look cheesy and cheap.

The cast of actors, most of them unfamiliar names and faces to American audiences, handle the dumb material without any particular distinction. The only member with any presence at all is Torrijo, surely not known in this country, in one of the smaller and less outrageous parts. For inexplicable and completely unnecessary reasons, Antonio Banderas and Penelope Cruz — big names everywhere — appear for about two minutes before the plane takes off, but certainly contribute nothing beyond some artificial business to the film. "I'm So Excited" must be the dumbest and perhaps the most destructive act of Almodóvar's career, and a bad advertisement for Spanish air travel.

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