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POMPOUS CIRCUMSTANCE

If you liked Whit Stillman's earlier comedy Metropolitan, in which a group of lamebrained debutantes and their sniffy dates sit around a Park Avenue living room drinking their parents' whiskey and pondering the meaning of life, you'll probably like Barcelona. The blue-blooded Stillman remains the only moviemaker in America who endorses preppy snobbism in the guise of satirizing it. He's also the only one who sounds like George Bush trying to be a stand-up comic. Put a regimental striped tie on this guy, hand him a caviar canape and he's in hog heaven.

Here Stillman has transplanted a couple of his thin-lipped WASP cotillion boys to the city of the title, where they are assailed by anti-Americanism and confounded by hot-blooded Spanish women. The time is the late Eighties, after the death of Franco and in the middle of anti-NATO sentiment. Businessman Ted Boynton (Taylor Nichols), who's working in Spain for a Chicago company, and his intrusive cousin Fred (Chris Eigeman), who's a feckless Navy officer, are decent young guys in a square, Young Republican kind of way. But what they really want to do is get laid, if not fall in love with the exotic women of their dreams. That the sleek, world-wise natives (Tushka Bergen, Mira Sorvino, Hellena Schmied) respond to them at all is a wonder. These boys talk like sincere undergraduates, and they can't dance--but neither fact seems to have occurred to their creator.

The innocents abroad theme is ancient, of course, and so is Stillman's attempt to reinvent the screwball comedies of the Thirties, in which wags in white ties exchanged brilliant witticisms while the follies of society were revealed. Here, neither thing washes: Stillman has little sense of irony, and he rarely deflates his characters' pomposity. On the contrary, he has great affection for this pair of mayonnaise-faced snots. Both actors, by the way, also appeared in his first film.

Meanwhile, there's a good deal of talk (Stillman's movies are nothing if not verbose) about cultural misunderstanding, which culminates in the terrorist bombing of a USO center and the near-fatal shooting of a young American. But these incidents seem pasted onto Barcelona. Stillman is so busy playing groupie to the power elite that he has little time to actually delineate the Spanish.

But, darling, everyone will just love it down at the club.

 
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