There's been a fair amount of hoo-ha vented about the ''shocking'' farcical rape that is the comedic centerpiece of Kika (October, unrated), Pedro Almodovar's naughty comedy about a bubbly, sexy, bighearted makeup artist (Veronica Forque). But the bigger shock is that this newest concoction of outrageous people in outrageous clothing doing outrageous things is pretty damn tedious. This is not the desired reaction to outrageousness. It is, however, a sign that in Kika, the Spanish writer and director who gave us Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown and High Heels is using his campy palette of Crayola- colored, kitsch-filled settings to mask an absence of colorful new ideas. I ought to feel something more than detached tolerance for antic scenes of sex, murder, rape, self-flagellation, and voyeurism. If I don't-and I'm a fan of his Mad Hatter style and stylishness-it's because Almodovar is missing substance beneath all that style.
In fact, rape is only a passing imposition for the film's eponymous heroine. She must also juggle the attentions of Ramon (Alex Casanovas), the occasionally cataleptic fashion photographer with whom she lives (he likes to take Polaroids of the two of them during sex); his stepfather, Nicholas (Peter Coyote), an expatriate American author with a dark taste for murder; and her lesbian servant, Juana (that arrestingly homely Almodovar regular Rossy de Palma). Juana's brother, a porn star and prison escapee, is the one who rapes Kika, first with an orange section (don't ask me to explain) and then at knifepoint in a slapstick scene.
Also involved in these excesses, like a buzzard circling over carrion, is Andrea Scarface (Victoria Abril), the ruthless host of the shockeroo TV show Today's Worst. She zooms around town dressed in an extraordinary human-camera costume by Jean-Paul Gaultier, looking for footage for her awful, popular show-the more horrifying the better. Andrea is a kind of cold-blooded, satiric one-woman Spanish chorus, commenting not only on the tacky actions of the characters but also on the tacky tastes of the filmmaker-and, by extension, on our own taste for voyeurism. What's ultimately shocking about Kika is how empty mayhem can be made to look. C-