Like his earlier films, Pedro Almodovar's Kika is the kind of outdated bedroom farce that could only come from post-Fascist Spain, where artistic freedom is still a novelty.

As in Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down! and High Heels, this tale of a garrulous Madrid makeup artist's sexual misadventures flaunts a contemporary flourish here and there--the odd bit of kinkiness, the occasional dark turn into violence, a couple of bows to feminist orthodoxy. But in essence, Spain's leading filmmaker, freed at least from both the Pope and the Generalissimo, is still cranking out the kind of playful, slightly carnal escapades that workaday French and Italian directors grew weary of decades ago.

In the last two reels, he tacks on a lame murder mystery drenched in revenge, which alters the tone of the film but does nothing to help.

The unappealing title character, gabby and sunny and not very bright, is played by Veronica Forque. She's supposed to be full of appetites, but she's full of something else. Victoria Abril wades in as a nosy TV gossip-show host who's mounted her minicam permanently on her head, and Peter Coyote is an expatriate American hack who's secretly killed his Spanish wife.

As is his custom, Almodovar also gives us a ration of dim-witted rapists (Santiago Lajustica), upstairs bimbos (Anabel Alonso) and sensitive stepsons who work as lingerie photographers (Alex Casanovas). He also pads the film with his usual gaudy interior decor and softcore sex scenes full of panting and sweat and leering.

Almodovar's proponents may find herein a daring celebration of womanly freedom, or at least some stylistic excitements. The rest of us will imagine that Pedro has just awakened from a long nap, thinking it's still 1955 in libertine Europe and high time to get naughty.

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