In the title role of "Kika," Pedro Almodovar's latest darkly outrageous attack on propriety, Veronica Forque emerges as an adorable innocent, as giddy as Geena Davis in "Thelma & Louise" but as buoyant as a rubber duck in a bathtub. She's sweet, sex-loving and kind, but it's her naivete that protects her like a suit of armor.
Had not Almodovar seriously overplayed his hand by stretching out a clever and ironic finish interminably, "Kika," which needs to lose at least 10 minutes, might well have been his most substantial picture since "Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown." As it is, "Kika" most likely will please primarily only die-hard Almodovar fans.
Kika can use all the protection she can get. A Madrid makeup artist, she's involved with Ramon (Alex Casanovas), a commercial photographer and collage artist who feels compelled to photograph himself making love to Kika; this is surely the sequence that originally pulled down an NC-17 rating (it's now unrated). Since Ramon, who worships the memory of his mother, an apparent suicide, is so kinky, Kika is also involved with his stepfather, Nicholas (Peter Coyote), an American writer and ardent womanizer (who's much like the character Coyote plays in Roman Polanski's "Bitter Moon").
One of Nicholas' discarded lovers calls herself Andrea Scarface (Victoria Abril)--she had scarred her face in a crazed attempt to hold on to Nicholas--and stars in a tabloid TV show, dressed in Jean Paul Gaultier futuristic garb, that makes Geraldo Rivera seem like Mary Worth. Kika, in turn, has a lesbian housekeeper, Juana (Rossy de Palma, an Almodovar regular, a comedian with a regal hatchet nose) who's mad for her and whose brother Pablo (Santiago Lajusticia) is an escaped convict, a rapist and ex-porn star (who also makes love to his sister).
As Almodovar catches up all these individuals--and others--in a freewheeling farce plot, he creates a contemporary parable on violence that's become so random and sex so bizarre that both have lost meaning; he perceives the relationship between sex and violence as constantly evolving and treacherously complex. Although Almodovar can actually get a laugh from a rape scene, he's seriously concerned with an increasingly perilous and arid world in which people tend to connect destructively if they connect at all.
Almodovar's exuberant style remains intact; he's one director who's intensely verbal yet always keeps his films moving, always inspiring trust in his actors to cast away virtually all their inhibitions. They in turn reward him with terrific comic portrayals. "Kika," which has Almodovar's characteristic high gloss, may not be a vintage film but it's nevertheless indelibly idiosyncratic. Nobody but Pedro Almodovar could have made it.
* MPAA rating: Unrated. Times guidelines: A sex scene just short of hard core, plus nudity, language, violence, a rape scene and complex themes.
Veronica Forque: Kika
Peter Coyote: Nicholas
Victoria Abril: Andrea Scarface
Alex Casanovas: Ramon
An October Films presentation. Director Pedro Almodovar. Line producer Esther Garcia. Executive producer Agustin Almodovar. Cinematographer Alfredo Mayo. Editor Jose Salcedo. Costumes Jose Maria Cossio, with the collaboration of Gianni Versace. Abril's costumes by Jean Paul Gaultier. Set designers Javier Fernandez, Alain Bainee. In Spanish, with English subtitles. Running time: 1 hour, 47 minutes.
* In selected theaters throughout the Los Angeles area.