It's not surprising that Pedro Almodovar's latest film, "I'm So Excited!," is being billed as a return to the erotically obsessed, anything-goes antics that propelled the Spanish director's early camp fests.

But at 63, Almodovar isn't looking to repeat his own cinematic past, even if his compatriots might wish to rewind the last several years that gave rise to Spain's current financial straits.

"I'm So Excited!," a comic melodrama set aboard a trans-Atlantic airline flight on which clothes are shed, much tequila is consumed and sexual partners are enthusiastically exchanged, could be seen as Almodovar's contemporary version of the Hollywood musicals that provided escapist diversion during the Great Depression.

"That comparison enchants me," says the director, relaxed and affable over lunch at the Chateau Marmont in Los Angeles.

But although his new film, which opens Friday, is, on one level, a breezy sex farce that spends much of its time with its head literally in the clouds, some of those clouds have opaque interiors. When the plane, en route from Madrid to Mexico City, develops a serious problem with its landing gear, the pilots are forced to prepare for an emergency landing.

Meanwhile, three male flight attendants do their best to keep the passengers happy and distracted by any means necessary, including a lip-syncing, lip-smacking rendition of the Pointer Sisters' pop tune that supplies the title.

Although Spain's economic crisis is barely mentioned directly, it is evoked through verbal references and sly visual allusions that turn the voyage at 30,000 feet into a Chaucerian microcosm of contemporary Spanish society.

"For example, there is a close-up that I didn't want to allow to go on for very long, because it would turn it into a joke, of a newspaper article about the 10 most important financial scandals of recent months. And all of them are real," Almodovar says. "So this current moment in Spanish society is filtered through this plane. When reality sneaks into a light comedy, I always welcome it."

Connoisseurs of his career may welcome it, too. After his previous feature, the unnerving Frankenstein fable "The Skin I Live In" left some viewers chilled, the farcical "I'm So Excited!" puts Almodovar back on the terra firma of sophisticated, character-driven situational comedy.

Within a few minutes of "I'm So Excited!," the audience understands that a tragic outcome probably isn't in the cards for the troubled airliner. The movie's screwball plot is stocked with familiar Almodovarian archetypes -- the phlegmatic porn star, the taciturn assassin, the guilt-ridden middle-aged man of means -- who get shaken up, cocktail fashion, by the story's increasingly wild revelations. The director says that when he began writing the screenplay, he at first only had scenarios and no fully developed characters. But as he began to tease out the plot threads, with feedback from his brother, Agustin, the characters and their individual histories began to take wing.

"When I started to write the movie, it was going to take place 50 percent in the sky and 50 percent on the ground. But later I came to be interested more in developing the situation in the plane and of the consequent catharsis of the characters."

With more than a dozen characters, several minor parts and a number of nonspeaking extras, "I'm So Excited!" is one of the largest and most diverse ensembles Almodovar ever has worked with. The cast includes accomplished Mexican leading man Jose Maria Yazpik and, in two small but plot-essential roles, Antonio Banderas and Penelope Cruz.