Just when Pedro Almodovar earned himself a new audience with the brilliantly bonkers Skin I Live In, he follows it up with a film that at best can be described Almodovar-lite. It’s charming enough and at times well-acted, but ultimately too paper-thin to be remembered along with his great works.
If he is the high priest of camp then it was only a matter of time before he made a film set on a plane, with three stewards as his main characters. And very funny they are, although their constant bitching and fussing about who is bisexual and who has slept with who gets tiresome over the 90 long minutes. Even their singing of the title song by the Pointer Sisters wears a bit thin after 30 seconds.
It kicks off with the world’s most glamorous and unlikely ground crew, Penelope Cruz and Antonio Banderas, who get distracted from their essential duties by the news that she is pregnant.
We then cut to the flight itself, which takes up most of the movie. In true disaster movie style there is a technical fault, and they have to circle Toledo to burn off fuel until an emergency landing. That gives us just enough time for each of the passengers in business class to tell the three stewards their life story, in true Chorus Line-style. It also helps that the stewards have drugged the entire cattle class, and got the business passengers roaring drunk.
There is Cecilia Roth, a dominatrix with a black book of 600 of Spain’s most important businessmen, who has a hitman after her. Lola Duenes, an Almodovar regular, is a psychic who is determined to lose her virginity on the flight – she does, in a slightly distasteful scene – and she utters the fart joke Almodovar gives her in every film.
Guillermo Toledo is a nice guy whose ex-girlfriend is threatening to throw herself off a bridge, and whose other lady happens to be cycling past – this is the only section of the film that goes outside the plane and gives us some much-needed visual relief. It’s also well played by the three protagonists.
Then there is a corrupt businessman whose dodgy dealings include building the airport where the plane will have to land, and who has a daughter he hasn’t spoken to for years.
Finally there is all the shenanigans in the cockpit, with the stewards trying to convince the pilot and co-pilot they are gay instead of bisexual.
It’s all entertaining enough, with about six laugh-out-loud jokes and plenty of smiles, but it’s all very slight and strangely unmemorable for an Almodovar film. In The Skin I Live In he managed to draw us into his world, mad as it may be. Here there is no real engagement, and the world he creates never convinces. One sequence, where the entire plane seems to be having sex, is strangely half-hearted, as if Almodovar has lost interest in his characters. If he doesn’t care for them why should we?
Overall verdict: Almodovar-lite, silly tale with a few chuckles but which will not linger long in the memory by a long way. Some solid performances from a fine line-up of actors can’t disguise this is a cross between A Chorus Line and Airport. For Almodovar completists only.
Reviewer: Mike Martin