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Almodovar Binds 'Tie Me Up!' to Quirky Love Story

March 17, 1994|MARK CHALON SMITH | Mark Chalon Smith is a free-lancer who regularly writes about film for The Times Orange County Edition.

"Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!" was threatened with an X rating when it came out in 1990, just another example of how misguidedly impulsive the coding system can be.

Pedro Almodovar's movie (closing out UC Irvine's "Tragedy and Comedy" series Friday night) isn't nearly as cheeky and insinuating as his earlier films such as "Law of Desire" (1987) and "Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown" (1988), which look at human relationships (especially where sex is involved) in farcically adult ways.

But "Tie Me Up!" was the first to have the X hanging over it like the Sword of Damocles. Or, at least, the Sword of Censors.

Eventually, that badge of dishonor was pulled, and the movie opened in the States unrated. Even so, you have to wonder what the worry was about--the ratings board must have taken the title seriously. There's kidnaping and bondage, but it's all fluff, a comedy of manners involving a few yards of good rope.

Almodovar turned to one of his veteran ensemble actors, Antonio Banderas (who also starred in "Law of Desire" and "Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown"), for the guy who does the tying up and the tying down. He plays Ricky, a just-released mental patient obsessed with Marina (Victoria Abril), a soft-porn actress and former drug addict.

We can see that Ricky doesn't solve science equations on the side (his bulbs are low wattage), but women love his dreamy-crazy ways and brown velveteen eyes. His female doctor gives him a wad of cash just before he leaves, thanking him for "the moments of mad pleasure you gave me."

Banderas, a true softie of a leading man, responds to her with the sensitivity of an adolescent boy yearning for approval. That non-dangerous style is a constant throughout "Tie Me Up!," which helps to keep the picture's edges rather blunted. Still, after he abducts Marina, slaps her a few times, then keeps her a prisoner, a wave of nervousness sets in. If Almodovar wasn't so intent on eventually turning his story into a cuddly love opus, these early scenes could rate as misogynistic.

Marina may be a fool for falling for Ricky and his twisted devotion to her, but the Spanish director isn't equating desire with sadism or masochism. Neither is this a testament to male domination as a cultural power tool; Marina, despite her predicament, seems much more in control than the near-idiotic Ricky.

Actually, probing those elements could have made "Tie Me Up!" more interesting and not just a glancingly fanciful picture about the ties that bind (literally and figuratively) when romance is involved. It's not a bad film, but mildly disappointing when you consider what Almodovar, who's been called the successor to Luis Bunuel (high praise), has done before.

But Almodovar's fans (which, I've found, tend more often to be female) will probably enjoy it.

An old girlfriend who lived in Spain for several years and was active in the women's movement once told me that Almodovar understands the feminine mind more than any other male director. She loved this movie.

What: Pedro Almodovar's "Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!"

When: When: Friday, March 18, at 7 and 9 p.m.

Where: The UC Irvine Student Center's Crystal Cove Auditorium.

Whereabouts: Take the San Diego (405) Freeway to Jamboree Road and head south to Campus Drive and take a left. Turn right on Bridge Road and take it into the campus.

Wherewithal: $2 to $4.

Where to call: (714) 856-6379.

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