Scripted and acted largely by newcomers and shot on a tight budget, Felix Sabroso and Dunia Ayaso's hilarious, defiantly unsophisticated kitsch comedy "Excuse Me, Darling, But Lucas Loved Me" is a feel-good delight pretty much from start to finish. Though both its gay bent and a plethora of references to Spanish pop culture may inhibit mainstream interest, it has enough good sight gags, pace and cult appeal to deserve a successful festival run.

Scripted and acted largely by newcomers and shot on a tight budget, Felix Sabroso and Dunia Ayaso’s hilarious, defiantly unsophisticated kitsch comedy “Excuse Me, Darling, But Lucas Loved Me” is a feel-good delight pretty much from start to finish. Though both its gay bent and a plethora of references to Spanish pop culture may inhibit mainstream interest, it has enough good sight gags, pace and cult appeal to deserve a successful festival run.

Local references hardly prevented Almodovar’s early pics from achieving recognition. And theshadow of early Almodovar looms large here — an obvious seam that few Spanish helmers have had the audacity to mine. Pic ends, for example, with the words of the final song flashed onscreen karaoke style, inviting auds to sing along.

The ridiculous plot is little more than a peg on which to hang characters and gags. Bespectacled, fat Carlos (Pepon Nieto), mystical marijuana smoker Toni (Jordi Molla) and suave, compact Dani (Roberto Correcher) are three gay boys sharing a Madrid apartment. Life is a ball, and we quickly grow to feel affection for the trio. One day Toni decides they need a lodger, who arrives in the form of Mel Gibson look-alike Lucas (Alfonso Caparros). When Lucas smiles, there’s a little ping, and a star flashes from his teeth. The three boys fall head over heels in love with him, and rivalries soon develop.

When Lucas is discovered dead, with seven kitchen knives stuck in him, panic ensues. In one of several hilarious scenes, the cleaning woman (Esperanza Roy) is told to call the cops and pretend the boys are researching a mystery script. When the police arrive, it’s in the shape of a macho inspector (Lucina Gil), full of the latest psychobabble after a course in the U.S., and miniskirted sidekick Mari Carmen (Maria Pujalte), interrupted on her way to a wedding.

Pic’s neatest twist is the way each of the characters — including, eventually, the two cops — instead of trying to prove his (or her) innocence, tells a story showing it was he whom Lucas really loved. Apart from a series of fantasy flashbacks, the film doesn’t move out of the living room beyond this point, and, as in Almodovar’s “Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown,” interest focuses on the dialogue and performances.

The strain doesn’t show too badly, apart from a couple of useless flashbacks involving the cleaning woman’s daughter. The good taste/bad taste tightrope is successfully negotiated, and there are no subcomic nudges at homosexual stereotypes — which seem to be slowly disappearing from Spanish screens. The only quibble is that the two helmers tie themselves up in knots by trying to resolve a plot that nobody is interested in anyway.

A soundtrack of horrendous old Spanish pop songs is the perfect counterpoint to these over-the-top goings-on. Enthusiastic perfs — in particular from Nieto , as the terminal romantic Carlos, and from Roy, as the cleaning woman — bring to life a script that is full of unforced wit. The ’70s-inspired lensing by Arnaldo Catinari is typically imaginative.

Excuse Me, Darling, But Lucas Loved Me

(Perdona Bonita, Pero Lucas Me Queria a Mi)

Production

(Spanish) A Columbia TriStar release (in Spain) of a Sogetel/Cristal production, with collaboration of Canal Plus (Spain) and Sogepaq. (International sales: Sogepaq, Madrid.) Produced by Cesar Benitez. Directed, written by Felix Sabroso, Dunia Ayaso.

Crew

Camera (color), Arnaldo Catinari; editor, Miguel Angel Santamaria; music, Manuel Villalta; art direction , Javier Fernandez; sound (Dolby), Jorge Ruiz; associate producer, Fernando de Garcillan. Reviewed at Cine Proyecciones, Madrid, Jan. 30, 1997. Running time: 81 MIN.

With

Carlos ..... Pepon Nieto Toni ..... Jordi Molla Dani ..... Roberto Correcher Lucas ..... Alfonso Caparros Cleaning Woman ..... Esperanza Roy Police Inspector ..... Lucina Gil Mari Carmen ..... Maria Pujalte
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