Kika (Spain, 1993)

A movie review by James Berardinelli

Filmmaker Pedro Almodovar (Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!) never does anything in a conventional manner, and Kika is no exception. A black farce on sex, violence, and the attraction of both for the general public, Kika is one of those films that causes the MPAA to get nervous. As a result, this admittedly-explicit motion picture was given an NC-17. October Films, however, decided against cutting the print to get an R or using the NC-17, and instead released Kika without a rating.

The title character of Kika (Veronica Forque) is a cosmetician who is living with her boyfriend Ramon (Alex Casanovas) and sleeping with his stepfather Nicholas (Peter Coyote). Nicholas isn't the monogamous type, either, since he's carrying on with several women in addition to Kika. Meanwhile, he has agreed to do some writing for a local reality-based trash TV show called Today's Worst, which is produced and hosted by Andrea "Scarface" (Victoria Abril, dressed up to look like Robocop), Ramon's former psychotic lover.

The real problem with Kika is that, while it's moderately entertaining and occasionally riotously funny, one of the first thoughts after leaving the theater is likely to be along the lines of "What was the point of that?" As a satirical social commentary, the film is surprisingly shallow, not to mention insensitive. It's easy to see how some viewers could be offended by the cavalier, jokey manner in which rape and incest are portrayed. (Then again, Almodovar has never been concerned about who he offends.)

The plum role belongs to Victoria Abril, portraying a "journalist" who makes Geraldo Rivera look like a serious TV newsman. With a camera mounted atop some sort of futuristic-looking headgear, she goes from crime scene to crime scene, hoping to catch a murder or something equally as juicy. She also likes filming people having sex, being raped, or confessing their crimes. In fact, there's nothing she won't do to get a confession on tape. Anything to keep the ratings high. Even Ramon, who can't stand Andrea, is glued to the set when the program is on. This satire on tabloid TV and the public's fascination with it is done with scalding insight.

The title character is a bit flighty, and more than a little afraid of a commitment. She has her deepest conversations with men when they're dead. For the first two-thirds of the movie, Kika lies at the center of everything that's going on. Then, unexpectedly and unfortunately, she all-but-vanishes during the conclusion. Removing the main character from the climax is a strange way to structure a movie.

Kika is too long, and the ending doesn't fit well with the much-better first half. By trying to tie all the disparate themes and storylines together at the end, Almodovar creates a chaotic mess that is never successfully untangled. There are a number of dead bodies, but no real sense of closure.

There's no doubt that Kika does exactly what Almodovar intended it to. From its moments of inspired comedy to its descent into bad taste, the director's indelible signature is woven into the fabric of the film. This movie is likely to offend as many as it appeals to, and I felt a little of the pull in both directions. Ultimately, however, Almodovar's central parody is strong enough to save this film from floundering too much or too often. It's daring and nasty, but rarely brilliant.

Kika (Spain, 1993)

Director: Pedro Almodovar
Cast: Veronica Forque, Peter Coyote, Alex Casanovas, Victoria Abril, Rossy De Palma
Screenplay: Pedro Almodovar
Cinematography: Alfredo Mayo
Music: Enrique Granados, Kurt Weill
U.S. Distributor: October Films
Run Time: 1:56
U.S. Release Date: -
MPAA Rating: "NR" (Sexual Situations, Nudity, Profanity, Violence)
Subtitles: Spanish with English subtitles
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1