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‘Kika’ (NR)

By Desson Howe
Washington Post Staff Writer
May 27, 1994

Outrageous people never die. They just get old. In "Kika," director Pedro Almodovar indulges once again his penchant for Mediterranean-blooded, taboo-ridden bedroom farce. But the movie lacks the forbidden danger of the Spanish shockmeister's previous films. It's a glossified, cluttered parody of itself. Almodovar is no longer a burlesque auteur. He's a repeat offender.

In this increasingly convoluted series of episodes, Kika (Veronica Forque) is a buxom makeup artist whose inexhaustible naivete brings out the exploitative worst in everyone.

Her pal and fellow hairdresser, Amparo (Anabel Alonso), constantly betrays her. Ramon (Alex Casanovas), her new boyfriend, takes Polaroid pictures of her while they make love. And in Kika's worst moment, erstwhile porno star Pablo (Santiago Lajusticia) breaks into her apartment and rapes her at knifepoint.

Also figuring in the bizarre, star-crossed melodrama is Andrea Scarface (Victoria Abril), dressed in dominatrix chic, the host of a tabloid TV show ("Today's Worst") who sniffs around for real-life crime, which she records with a camcorder attached to her head. There is also Nicholas Pierce (Peter Coyote), an expatriate American crime novelist who is Ramon's father, Kika's secret lover and possibly a killer. Last, but certainly not least, is Juana (Rossy de Palma), Kika's lesbian maid, who aids and abets the aforementioned rape by letting her brother Pablo into Kika's apartment.

"Kika" evolves from anguished melodrama (a sort of Roy Lichtenstein poster world) to a darker Jacobean saga, as serial murder, bitter jealousy and revenge rule the day. Almodovar is clearly less interested in the big picture than in his signature details: the glossy lipstick and jangling earrings on his women, the Catholic figurines in Kika's bedroom and the lingerie on the models that underwear photographer Ramon loves to catch in his viewfinder.

The rape scene is quintessential Almodovar: While Pablo is violating her, Kika keeps up a chatty patter of protestation, asking him to stop. But Pablo -- determined to have his pleasure again and again -- keeps going.

"A rape's one thing," complains Kika. "This is taking all day."

Unfortunately, Almodovar has done this kind of thing before, and he's done it better. In earlier works, such as "Matador," "Dark Habits" and "Law of Desire," Almodovar laced his favorite obsessions -- voyeurism, cruelty, rape and murder -- with bold, satiric irony. Now, he's just redressing the same stuff, as if his movies were mannequins in a window display. Something alarming has happened to Almodovar: He has become commonplace and predictable.

"Kika" is unrated and in Spanish with subtitles. It contains explicit sexual situations, violence and profanity.

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