Ricky (Antonio Banderas) has spent most of his life in institutions of one kind or another after being orphaned at an early age and turning to crime from his teens onwards, but now he is called to the office of the head of the asylum he stays in to be told that he is to be released, and can finally settle down and live the rest of his days like a normal person. The director is more sorry to see him go than he is to get out of there, mostly thanks to his skills as a lover, but with money in his pocket and a plan in mind, he knows what he's going to do next...
Which is something very illegal, yet will have unforseen consequences, unforseen to everybody except Ricky that is, who turns out to be a better judge of character than anyone else in the movie. It was this uneasy manner in which director Pedro Almodóvar's Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down! (known as Atame! in his native land, which is only the first half of the English title's intepretation) resolved itself which gave rise to a mixed reaction when this was brought out outside Spain. Inside Spain it was a huge hit, one of the biggest of his career to that date, but many dissenting voices were making themselves heard elsewhere.
The main bone of contention appeared to be the way that Ricky's none too admirable methods of getting that lover he had always wanted to be his life partner played out, much like an X-rated version of Marilyn Monroe's Bus Stop. For the first two thirds of the movie, we are wanting him not to get away with his crime, yet then for the finale we are meant to feel sympathy for him, a step too far for quite a few in the audience, no matter that he was being played by international handsome chap Antonio Banderas. This was the movie which made him sought after in Hollywood, going on to secure him A-list celebrity status and a run of hits across the world, and he had Almodóvar to thank, though it would be a while before they reunited.
That was for The Skin I Live In, the director's foray into outright horror, which funnily enough had an echo from this as it played out as if it could have been a solid entry into the chiller field along the lines of The Collector. Indeed, there was a substantial portion here which detailed the making of a horror movie which hinted that Almodóvar may have been considering that genre for his tale, musing which came to fruition with that later movie. Here, however, we were on twisted romantic comedy grounds, no matter that even a thriller might have been a more obvious way to approach it. So if you were not used to having your expectations challenged, you were not going to get on with this.
Ricky's scheme is to kidnap a wife for himself, and he has his sights set upon porn actress trying to go legit in that shocker Marina (Victoria Abril), who he has tracked to the local studios. After disguising himself, he waits for the right moment to pounce, and before long the two of them are holed up in her apartment, her not allowed to leave and being tied up whenever he goes out himself. Well, at first he allows her to accompany him while handcuffed to his wrist because she needs a painkiller for her tooth, which his punch has not helped at all with, but really she's biding her time to work out an escape plan. Handily for Ricky, nobody thinks to investigate her disappearance, only leaving messages on the answering machine, so he can do what he likes with her which feels as if the film doesn't know where to go next now it has established its premise, but that's not true: it's just that its direction, complete with steamy sex scene and volte face by Marina, is not one which will sit well with everyone. Provocative, yes. Music by Ennio Morricone.