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MOVIE REVIEW

'Mouth to Mouth' Serves Up a Delightful, Inventive Farce

September 05, 1997|KEVIN THOMAS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

"Mouth to Mouth" is a gloriously giddy Spanish farce of consistent humor and invention that embraces romantic comedy, the thriller, a sharp satire of Hollywood pomposity and even a nudge to gays to get out of the closet. It might also establish Javier Bardem, best known in the U.S. as the amiable stud of Bigas Lunas' "Jamon, Jamon," as an international star.

Bardem plays Victor Ventura, a struggling actor from Cartagena who's having such a struggle surviving in Madrid that he's driven to go to work for a phone sex agency. Since Ventura really has talent and imagination, plus compassion, he's an instant hit, especially with a gay caller who uses the name Bill (Josep Maria Flotats). Victor then gets a call from a woman he connects with so strongly that, in violation of the rules, they end up in a scorching rendezvous. She turns out to be none other than Bill's wife, Amanda (Aitana Sanchez-Gijon), who is in need of Victor's help in ensuring that she gets custody of her two small sons.

Just as Victor, who's fallen in love at first encounter, is about to leave himself wide open to big trouble, his tenacious agent (Mari Barranco) has landed him an interview and possible test for a major Hollywood production to be shot in Madrid. From here on the plot thickens with delightful, inspired dizziness.

"Mouth to Mouth"--the name of the disco that figures in the story--is a sensational showcase for Bardem. One moment he's a passionate lover, the next he's doing a disastrous audition, which requires him to do Gene Kelly's famous "Be a Clown" number, and then come on to the Hollywood casting agent (Myrian Mezieres) as the smoldering Latin lover stereotype that she expects--and he despises. Bardem is in fact indubitably sexy, but he can play against his image and also beyond it. His Victor has no small amount of courage and sensitivity, not to mention intelligence and humor.

Director Manuel Gomez Pereira, a whiz at juggling plot and players, and his co-writers have surrounded Bardem with lots of equally fine actors. Flotats is wonderful as the middle-aged, intensely closeted Bill, an eminent plastic surgeon, who in the course of the movie's mayhem, is forced to face up to being gay only to discover that hardly anybody cares.

Sanchez-Gijon's Amanda is herself formidably sexy, gorgeous yet vulnerable, and Barranco's agent is a real heroine, an elegant woman, whose loyalty to her client is put to the test--and then some. Sam Mackenzie is amusing as a Hollywood director who's the Ugly American incarnate. If you enjoyed the German comedy "Maybe . . . Maybe Not," you'll probably like "'Mouth to Mouth" as well.

* MPAA rating: R, for sexuality and language. Times guidelines: The film has a discreet but steamy love scene, adult themes.

'Mouth to Mouth' ('Boca a Boca')

Javier Bardem: Victor Ventura

Aitana Sanchez-Gijon: Amanda

Josep Maria Flotats: Bill/Ricardo

Maria Barranco: Angela

A Miramax presentation. Director Manuel Gomez Pereira. Producers Cesar Benitez, Joaquin Oristrell, Pereira. Executive producers Benitez, Fernando Garcillan. Screenplay by Oristrell, Juan Luis Iborra, Naomi Wise, Pereira. Cinematographer Juan Amoros. Editor Guillermo Represa. Costumes Nereida Bonmati. Music Bernardo Bonezzi. Art Director Luis Velle. In Spanish and English, with English subtitles. Running time: 1 hour, 37 minutes.

*

* Exclusively at the Westside Pavilion, 10800 W. Pico Blvd., West Los Angeles, (310) 475-0202, and the Town Center 4, 3199 Park Center Drive, Costa Mesa, (714) 751-4184.

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