Almodovar's 'Kika' flies out of director's control

May 27, 1994|By Stephen Hunter | Stephen Hunter,Sun Film Critic

Since he was born there, it might be easy to confuse the Spanish director Pedro Almodovar with the Man of La Mancha. But his windmill is sexual repression and he tilts against it in all forms, sometimes with success and sometimes without.

Latest score: Windmill 1, Almodovar 0.

It's not that "Kika," which opens today at the Rotunda, is awful, although it is pretty pathetic. What's dispiriting about it is the sense of lack of control. Almodovar, who had so much better luck with "Tie Me Up, Tie Me Down" and "Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown" and even (a personal, though not critical, favorite) "Matador," is all over the place on this one.

He conjures a dark, Gothic, convoluted plot about a serial killer, which he sunnily approaches through the point of view of the least interesting character: a flighty makeup artist at a TV station. That's Kika (Veronica Forque), a Junoesque redhead who is sleeping with the moody but handsome son (Alex Casonovas) of a mother dead of self-inflicted gunshot wounds. She's also sleeping with the boy's stepfather (Peter Coyote), a handsome but mysterious American "writer-drifter" as the press notes have it. Another completely wacko element is Andrea Scarface (Victoria Abril), who hosts a television show dedicated to videotape of atrocity, crime, pain and banality; it ought to be called "Spain's Goriest Home Videos."

With Almodovar, things tend to happen fast, and "Kika" is all speed and no depth. Some have called him the Spanish John Waters, though he's slightly more committed to naturalistic storytelling conventions (but not much) and his work doesn't have the typical Waters flatness to it, nor its deadpan humor. It does have an edge of hysteria, and much of "Kika" feels hysterical.

Almodovar just can't decide which story he wants to tell. Kika's love life -- which involves others than the mourning son and his stepfather -- would be a great deal more interesting if Kika herself were. But she's not: Forque is an actress without subtlety, mystery or depth. The movie's insistence that we engage her emotionally always feels more like bullying than storytelling. She's not remote, she's just banal; who can care?

The more interesting plot deals with Coyote, who, it soon becomes apparent to everybody in the audience but nobody in the movie, is a deeply pathological personality. A natural seducer, he may also be a killer, and poor Kika may be on his list of victims. Meanwhile, Andrea Scarface is scurrying around in Barbarella costumes with a video cam mounted on her head, trying to get footage of murders, rapes and other unpleasantries. When she begins to suspect the presence of an authentic celebrity-level serial killer about, she goes into a virtual feeding frenzy.

Still other plots intrude on this nonsense, including the awkwardness caused when the maid's brother escapes from the cops, breaks into the apartment and rapes Kika, who actually seems to enjoy it a bit. This sequence, famously, earned "Kika" an NC-17 rating, which the distributors declined to accept, choosing instead to release the film unrated. It's not a particularly obscene sequence -- one sees no body parts, certainly no penetration -- but what's appalling about it is that Kika and two policemen, and the movie itself, treat the episode as a big joke. It's ironic, not literal. Why do I think such a thing is possible only among urbane intellectuals and avant-garde artists who have had no first-hand acquaintanceship with violent crime?

In any event, in its final scenes Almodovar himself loses complete interest in Kika. Instead, as the movie's bright, sunny mood darkens considerably, he chronicles a fairly violent sequence of stalking and killing that transpires between Scarface and Coyote in a deserted house. Everyone gets what they deserve, including Almodovar.


Starring Peter Coyote and Veronica Forque

Directed by Pedro Almodovar

Released by October Films



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