We meet Lucia as a raven-haired, fortysomething Mexican wife en route to a New Year's vacation in South America. While she waits at the airport gate, her husband Ramon steps into the men's room -- and disappears without a trace. Lucia informs the police, who ask nosy questions about the strength of their marriage, then she anxiously awaits news in their well- appointed apartment.
But wait -- Lucia must make some corrections. She's actually a blonde, and her household furnishings are much more cheap and kitschy than what we've seen so far. She explains that she's a writer of children's books and has a habit of making things up. Lucia's habit of deception gives director Antonio Serrano plenty of license to mess with our heads, but to little satisfying purpose.
A sinister phone call informs Lucia that Maoists terrorists called Worker's Pride have kidnapped Ramon and want a hefty ransom that she doesn't have. Distrusting the police, she puts her faith in two neighbors she meets shortly after Ramon goes missing. Gallant Felix (Carlos Alvarez Novoa) is an elderly but resourceful veteran of the revolution against Franco, while hunky Adrian (Kuno Becker) is an aspiring musician prone to quote famous philosophers. They not only become allies in Lucia's exploits but start crashing at her apartment.
The kidnapping premise doesn't have much humor, but Serrano inexplicably treats it like a comic goldmine. And though Roth is a soulful, expressive actress, when Lucia, Lucia strains for laughs, she becomes shrill.
The film's plot is stuffed with double-crosses, attempted robberies and botched ransom drops, yet Serrano shows little interest in telling a coherent story. Instead, he wants to take Lucia through a sensual re-awakening -- which is no surprise, since feminine sensual awakenings provide the subject of apparently half the foreign films that make it to U.S. theaters.
The trio take a road trip to pursue a lead, and sparks fly between Lucia and Adrian despite their age difference. When the pair line-dance to a Spanish version of "Achy Breaky Heart," or when he visits her motel room bare-chested to borrow toothpaste, Becker cultivates a kind of Brad-Pitt-in-Thelma-and-Louise studliness. Roth's performance begins to blossom even as Lucia's mid-life crises plot feels predictable.
Lucia, Lucia generally shows more interest in how it looks than what it says. Art director Brigitte Broche won an Oscar for Moulin Rouge, and here shows a less berserk but still fussy attention to detail. The film's first half takes place during the holidays and displays Christmas lights or decorations in nearly every scene. You can even glimpse three Magi riding a department store escalator.
Changes in the movie's design match Lucia's emotions at times. When she decides to open herself to physical pleasures, her apartment makes another metamorphosis, taking on a tropical / tiki bar motif that hints at passion and jungle heat.
But Lucia, Lucia's narrative shifts too much for the audiences to put much stake in it. Serrano sets an irreverent tone, Felix and Adrian seem too good to be true and Lucia admits to being an unreliable narrator, so you can't take anything seriously. The "trust no one" notion suits the film's subtext about police and government corruption, but it keeps us at arm's length from the protagonists as well. Lucia's ever-changing apartment and hair-color give Lucia, Lucia its most intriguing idea -- but couldn't Serrano have just given her a mood ring?
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