Sex, drugs, and an airplane in Almodovar's latest

I'm So Excited

Directed by Pedro Almodovar

Opens at the Charles July 19

To get a sense of Pedro Almodovar's

I'm So Excited


, imagine the classic 1980 disaster spoof


, make it super-gay, and then throw in a touch of TV hit


and a lot of mescaline. Like much of Almodovar's work, especially his early films, this movie is both silly and sexy. It follows a flight's precarious course from Spain to Mexico-except the landing gear breaks in an early, disconnected scene with Antonio Banderas and Penelope Cruz, so the plane never leaves Europe, instead circling over Toledo, Spain, waiting to find an empty airport for an emergency landing.

Almodovar brilliantly limits his cast and adds a darker hue to what is essentially a sex-and-drugs farce when a group of stewardesses drug themselves and the whole economy class of the plane with tranquilizers that may as well be Marx's opium of the masses. (Spain's economic troubles provide a subtle-for Almodovar, at least-but persistent subtext for the movie.) This leaves awake on the flight a bawdy group of Chaucerian pilgrims, among whom there are a number of crossed destinies and hidden connections.

There is a hit man (Jose Maria Yazpik), a famous dominatrix (Cecilia Roth), a fraudulent businessman escaping Spain before he is arrested (Jose Luis Torrijo). There are the newlyweds (Miguel Angel Silvestre and Laya Marti), a washed-up womanizing movie star going to work in Mexico (Guillermo Toledo), and the flighty psychic who has been hired by


to find dead bodies (Lola Duenas). Early on in the flight, she predicts that the trip will change everyone's life and that they will end up in a white place like clouds (and that she will lose her virginity).

Then there is the crew. Serving as the heart of the movie is Joserra (Javier Camara), the openly gay, drunken, drug-addled head flight attendant, who at one point laments that he only brought heroin, cocaine, and marijuana on the trip. Unable to lie after a corporate coverup involving the death of a passenger on a previous flight, Joserra is having an affair with the married pilot, whose bisexuality is superbly underplayed by Antonio de la Torre. Joserra doesn't mind the marriage-at one point he insists that the pilot call his wife-but he is furious that the pilot let the ostensibly straight co-pilot (Hugo Silva) suck his dick. The co-pilot, for his part, is obsessed with the question of whether such a drunken dick-sucking makes him gay-even if the penis in his mouth made him vomit, as he says, the way the pilot does when he shoots heroin.

Things really take off when Joserra and his colleagues mix a bunch of mescaline, which one of the newlyweds snuck aboard the plane in his ass, into the Valencia punch they bring to the business-class passengers and the co-pilot. (In a perfectly Almodovarian scene, the three flight attendants comment on the smell of the package, like connoisseur's commenting on the bouquet of a merlot.)

It's not only mescaline. Nearly everyone in the film is constantly drinking, passing around joints, and/or fucking, and Almodovar is never judgmental about it: It is clear-when the virgin psychic fucks a sleeping guy, for instance, in a way that is seen as good-natured rather than rape-that Almodovar takes it for granted that humans are hedonists at heart. These fantasy films are so successful because they depict a world that many of us would like to live in. The film also makes clear that such consequence-free living is only temporary, however; we can only experience it in rare, disconnected moments: flights, highs, movies. All three are trips during which judgment can be suspended, but there is an inevitable crash (this again seems to point to Europe's debt crisis).

The darker consequences of hedonism are made clear as the passengers get to know each other and discover that each is running from something. There is a broken phone aboard the plane that broadcasts all conversations to the entire flight. This leads to a somewhat disconnected bit following two of the actors' former lovers on the ground in Spain-there is a suicide attempt, a dropped cellphone, and a number of absurd missed connections. The ground plot feels almost like a separate film (more in the style of 1999's

All About My Mother


) inserted into the middle of the otherwise-hermetic space of the airplane's business-class seats and cockpit. But rather than distracting us, it serves to highlight the isolation we can feel from others when we are taking a trip-whether literal or drug-induced.

The Spanish title of the movie,

Los amantes pasajeros

, which can be read either as "the passenger lovers" or "the passing lovers," captures something that the English translation lacks, for in Almodovar's fluid and bawdy view of human nature, we are all passengers hoping to find a bit of pleasure before we crash-land somewhere we never expected to be.