Those who have found themselves entranced by Pedro Almodóvar's tendency towards the dark side in recent years - especially with his last film, the deliciously demented The Skin I Live In - will likely be disappointed by his latest effort, a low-key outing that somewhat recalls the director's more playful early work, though lacks the wit to make its high-camp premise work. It's difficult to imagine that I'm So Excited (named after the Pointers Sisters hit song, which features in one admittedly uproarious, lip-synced scene) would do any business at all were it not festooned with the seal of approval that is Almodóvar's name, because this mile-high comedy doesn't so much feel like one of the director's films as it does another writer-director trying to ape his style. The premise is enticing enough - a flight bound for Mexico City appears to be doomed when the landing gear fails after takeoff, and so the crew and passengers band together in a flurry of drink, drugs and alcohol - but Almodóvar writes in such agonisingly broad strokes that it doesn't take any more than 10 minutes to realise how dispiritingly one-note the whole endeavour is. After beginning with two shoehorned cameo appearances from Antonio Banderas and Penelope Cruz, we venture up into the sky to meet the unfortunate souls on-board the beleaguered flight. There's the three unmistakably gayer-than-gay flight attendants (Javier Camara, Raul Arevalo, Carlos Areces), the incredulous pilots flying the plane (Hugo Silva, Antonio de la Torre), and then a litany of passengers who each have their own quirks. There's the middle-aged virgin woman who claims to be clairvoyant, a kinky newlywed couple, an elderly sex worker who appears to have an even shadier secret up her sleeve, and two slick professional-looking men who are a constant source of suspicion. Though the sheer mixture of personalities combined with Almodóvar's signature cutting dialogue should have made for an incendiary concoction, the result is oddly banal, surely only a minor blip in the writer-director's corpus of work, but one that bears virtually no hallmarks of his otherwise staunchly reliable output. The laughs are too easy, usually opting for a lazy sex gag you'll anticipate seconds before, or a snoozy bout of potty humour. Frankly, it's hard to shake the feeling that were I'm So Excited from the pen of anyone else - or worse still, if it was in English - we wouldn't be quite so eager to tolerate it. It's hard to argue with the enthusiasm of the cast - the trio of flamboyant flight attendants are the definite highlight - but they're saddled with a script that deals with bodily fluids, drugs and genitalia in the most milquetoast, perfunctory means possible (there's all this rutting but no nudity to speak of) that the end result is shockingly stale for the most part. Expecting nuance from the film is our first mistake; evidently Almodóvar's approach is to simply hurl as much puerile lunacy at the screen as is possible in an hour and a half. However, he can't manage even that modest goal, as a mid-film detour back down to terra firma - in which a man on-board the plane (Guillermo Toledo) tries to contact his two former lovers (Paz Vega, Blanca Suarez) - drains proceedings of their energy for far too long, a nadir from which the film never really recovers. Taking place largely inside the plane, I'm So Excited looks and feels low-budget, such that it required a particularly punchy script to see itself through. Instead, the world-class director delivers his most glib and complacent film to date, one that evaporates from the memory in record time (for an Almodóvar film, anyway), and won't be remembered by the director's legion of fans for very long. A massively disappointing return to silly comedy for Almodóvar, I'm So Excited is a low-mileage, lowest common denominator farce that will likely test even his most devout followers. It ultimately amounts to little more than a 90-minute-long gay joke that loses its charm after just a few. I'm So Excited is in UK cinemas this Friday.
Frequently sleep-deprived film addict and video game obsessive who spends more time than is healthy in darkened London screening rooms. Follow his twitter on @ShaunMunroFilm or e-mail him at shaneo632 [at] gmail.com.