Hot movie trend for 2013: Gather old friends and collaborators, write a loose-fitting screenplay intended to be a goof, enjoy a quick shoot and invite audiences to come to the movie with lowered expectations.
You can make an apocalyptic film, as Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg did in This Is the End. You can make a lightweight buddy romp, as J.K. Simmons did with his Spider-Man pals and others in 3 Geezers!
But writer-director Pedro Almodóvar crammed actors hes worked with over the years into a movie so wacky it defies analysis.
It has the U.S. title Im So Excited, and three swishy cabin attendants do lip-sync to the Pointer Sisters version of that song. The Spanish title, Los Amantes Pasajeros, makes more sense and contains a pun: It can be read as The Lovers in Passing, suggesting that the relationships in the story will evaporate when the plane comes down, or as The Lover-Passengers.
It starts playing tricks on us in the opening scene. Penélope Cruz and Antonio Banderas stand on a runway, discussing her pregnancy; the plane goes, and we never see them again.
Not that the flight lacks for excitement. The landing gear malfunctions, so a trip to Mexico City will have to end on a Spanish runway possibly in a fiery crash.
The stewards, led by Javier Cámara as one who never tells a lie, drink to excess; the pilot and co-pilot engage in practices that give new meaning to the word cockpit. None of this disturbs anyone in coach, because those passengers have been knocked out with sleeping pills. (Smart move by Almodóvar: When you have a low budget, make most of the characters unconscious.)
First-class passengers include Almodóvar faves Lola Dueñas as a 40-year-old virgin with premonitions of death, Antonio de la Torre as a Mexican hit man, José Luis Torrijo as a financier fleeing arrest, Paz Vega as a drugged bride on her honeymoon, and Cecilia Roth (who has worked with Almodóvar for 33 years) as a dominatrix who says she has recorded sex tapes of 600 powerful Spaniards.
Their antics may be infuriating (if you want coherence) or diverting (if you like to see talented actors on holiday) or just bizarre. I read a commentary that suggested this story was a criticism of Spanish society, which forces people to suppress their natural selves. I had two reactions: 1) All of Almodóvars films do that, and 2) Thats the kind of psychobabble critics resort to if theyre stumped. (Or filmmakers resort to if theyre pulling our legs.)
The director did have one inspired visual idea. As the plane touches down in distress, we see only the interior of the deserted airport at night. The pristine floors, empty baggage carousels and chairs waiting for customers tell us life will go on, whatever happens to these endangered crazies.
Almodóvar probably shot it that way because he had no money to fake an elaborate crash. But the scene shows how an inspired artist which he is, however weird escapes restraints.
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