Alejandro González Iñárritu's first film since he split from screenwriter Guillermo Arriaga, with whom he created the fractured, parceled-out, time-toggling—and increasingly globe-hopping, multilingual, and portentous—trilogy Amores Perros, 21 Grams, and Babel, stays in one place (Barcelona) and follows one main character (Javier Bardem's Uxbal) in a linear story line. Though its structure may be whittled down in comparison with the earlier works, Biutiful, which Iñárritu wrote with first-timers Armando Bo and Nicolás Giacobone, is even more morbidly obese than Babel in terms of soggy ideas, elephantine with miserabilist humanism and redemption jibber-jabber. Beyond dying of prostate cancer—a situation that calls for several scenes of Bardem peeing blood and his pants before affixing an adult diaper—Uxbal must contend with a bipolar wife who's sleeping with his brother; serve as the black-market point man for Senegalese dope-peddlers and two venal Chinese sweatshop overseers (who also happen to be d/l lovers); and communicate with the dead—a burdensome gift that comes in handy after a horrible incident at the sweatshop. Through this relentless, manipulative muck, Uxbal tries to be a stable, loving parent to his two tykes, especially after Mom gives one of them a shiner. For all the hand-wringing hooey, Iñárritu says nothing more complex than this: Father feels worst.
Bardem slogs toward a glum epiphany.
Opens at Harvard Exit and Lincoln Square, Fri., Feb. 4. Rated R. 147 minutes.