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'Lucia Lucia' has one sparkle: radiant actress Cecilia Roth

LUCIA LUCIA — ** — Cecilia Roth, Carlos Alvarez-Novoa, Kuno Becker; in Spanish, with English subtitles; rated R (sex, profanity, brief drug use); see "Playing at local movie theaters" for theater listings.

"Lucia Lucia" proves that losing your husband in the bathroom need not be a bad thing, particularly when your marriage is stuck in a rut and you haven't had much fun in, oh, about 20 years.

It also proves that you can strand a great actress — in this case Cecilia Roth, so good in Pedro Almodovar's "All About My Mother"— with mediocre writing and a directorial style that has more in common with Mexican soap operas than the vaunted New Wave of Mexican filmmaking.

Then again, it might be a bit of a stretch to include "Lucia Lucia" writer-director Antonio Serrano with the likes of Alfonso Cuaron ("Y Tu Mama Tambien"), Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu ("Amores Perros") or Carlos Carrera ("El Crimen Del Padre Amaro"). Anyone looking for something intriguing on the level of recent Mexican imports will come away feeling malnourished.

From the outset, Serrano doesn't give you much of an idea of who Lucia was and why she's so desperate for change, outside of the fact that she hasn't gone swimming since she was a kid and would really like to take a dip in the pool. "To mature," Lucia ruminates. "It means 'beginning to rot.' " Maybe she should join the gym.

With that kind of attitude and a marriage we can only assume wasn't so hot, Lucia (Roth) understandably has mixed emotions about her husband's disappearance, although she expresses suitable concern when it's learned he may be the victim of foul play. Or maybe he's vanished because he's up to no good and he doesn't want the cops to find him. Lucia, who writes children's books, keeps changing the plot— and her own appearance — throughout the movie, warning, "Here's another story. Here's another lie."

It's supposed to be a meditation on the elusive nature of identity and the need to reinvent oneself as the years pile up — but Serrano, working from Rosa Montero's novel, doesn't really take it anyplace interesting. As Lucia searches for her husband, she hooks up with an elderly, gun-toting Spaniard (Carlos Alvarez-Novoa) and a beefcake neighbor kid (Kuno Becker). Both men awaken something in Lucia — sexual passion, self-worth. We'll let you figure out who inspired what.

Roth, throughout, is radiant, and when she turns into a redhead and espouses the redemptive powers of sexual healing, boy, do you believe her. Too bad the rest of the movie doesn't share the strength of those convictions.

"Lucia Lucia" is rated R for simulated sex, use of strong sexual profanity and brief drug use (marijuana). Running time: 113 minutes.