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'I'm So Excited!' (R)

What did we do to deserve I’m So Excited!? Spanish filmmaker Pedro Almodóvar’s much-anticipated return to all-out comedy (his first since 1988’s Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown) is a screechy, tiresome affair — a failed attempt by the director to revisit the bawdy territory of his early work (Labyrinth of Passion, Law of Desire). But the times have caught up with Almodóvar, who is now 63: He thinks he’s still pushing the envelope, but he comes off as old-fashioned and outdated.

The movie is set almost entirely aboard a jetliner headed from Spain to Mexico that is forced to circle in the air, waiting for a runway to free up, after its landing gear fails. To avoid panic, the three gay flight attendants (Javier Cámara, Raúl Arévalo and Carlos Areces) knock out all the passengers in the crowded coach section by sneaking a tranquilizer into their drinks.

That leaves only the business class passengers, who include a clairvoyant virgin (Lola Dueñas), a dominatrix with an A-list clientele (Cecilia Roth), a corrupt banker (José Luis Torrijo), an actor (Guillermo Toledo), a pair of partied-out newlyweds and a mysterious Mexican man (José María Yazpik) who happens to be reading Roberto Bolaño’s novel 2666, a subtle clue to his profession.

While distracting the passengers with drinks and stories, the ostentatiously effeminate attendants perform a lip-sync routine to the eponymous Pointer Sisters song, knock back tequila and check in with the pilots for updates on their situation.

As is his wont, Almodóvar inserts lots of sex into the scenario (the film’s Spanish title, Los amantes pasajeros, translates into “Passing Lovers”) But what once might have seemed shockingly funny — such as the rampant bisexuality aboard the plane, or the several strange trysts that take place high in the clouds — today seems contrived and silly. Except for an inexplicably long and dramatic detour down to Madrid, where the actor’s suicidal girlfriend and his ex cross paths and the film comes to a complete stop, I’m So Excited! stays inside that claustrophobic plane cabin, and the more outrageous things get, the sillier the movie feels.

Almodóvar makes a few half-hearted attempts to comment on Spain’s current economic crisis, but they barely register. I may have laughed once or twice during I’m So Excited!, but I spent most of the film wincing at failed jokes and cartoonish buffoonery. The running time is mercifully brief, but the picture is still suffocating enough to make you want to look for an exit row and parachute out of there. Sometimes, even the most gifted artists run with a bad idea.

Cast: Javier Cámara, Raúl Arévalo, Carlos Areces, Lola Dueñas, Cecilia Roth, Guillermo Toledo, José Luis Torrijo, Antonio de la Torre, José María Yazpik, Hugo Silva.

Writer-director: Pedro Almodóvar.

Producers: Agustín Almodóvar, Esther Garcia.

A Sony Pictures Classics release. Running time: 95 minutes. In Spanish with English subtitles. Vulgar language, sexual situations, adult themes. Opens Friday July 19 In Miami-Dade: Coral Gables Art Cinema; in Broward: Gateway; in Palm Beach: Delray, Palace, Shadowood, Boynton Beach.