Star Maps

on July 23, 1997 by Carole Glines
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   People familiar with star maps, those ubiquitous guides to celebrities' homes sold to tourists all over Los Angeles, might expect a movie of the same name to be a comic romp about a map salesman. No such luck. Writer/director Miguel Arteta uses the benign star maps concept to take off into twisted territory, putting his young map-hawking character in a prostitution ring.
   Douglas Spain stars as Carlos, a young Hispanic man who returns to his family in L.A. determined to be a star after working as an actor in Mexico. Despite the protests of his sweet sister Maria (Lysa Flores), Carlos goes to work for his manipulative father, Pepe (Efrain Figueroa), a pimp to a group of young men who sell star maps on the streets as a front for prostitution. Carlos has kinky sex with both Johns and Janes, hoping his dad will reward him with help getting into show business. When Carlos on his own gets a break from a smitten actress/customer (Kandeyce Jorden), who's determined to put him on her TV show, an all-out war with Pepe ensues.
   First-time filmmaker Arteta searches for profundity in Carlos' quest to become an actor and escape his brutal dad, but their emotional confrontations, which lead inevitably to violence, don't engage the audience. What's worse is that the director seems to want his film to be topical, funny, shocking and sweet, all at the same time. As he dwells on scenes of degrading sex (often played uncomfortably for laughs) and fashions a screenplay of mostly four- letter words, he also indulges his sentimental side with the character of Carlos' mentally ill mother (Martha Velez). She spends her days watching the famed Mexican comic Catinflas on TV and, in odd fantasy scenes, interacts with her idol. Such moments are so showy and different from the rest of the film that they're distracting; Arteta should have stuck to Carlos' grittier story instead of taking excursions into Luis Bunuel territory. The actors do their jobs well, particularly Flores, Figueroa and Spain, who's very affecting in the lead. But solid acting alone doesn't take Arteta far. "Star Maps" needs direction.    Starring Douglas Spain, Efrain Figueroa, Kandeyce Jorden, Martha Velez and Lysa Flores. Directed and written by Miguel Arteta. Produced by Matthew Greenfield. A Fox Searchlight release. Drama. Rated R for strong sexuality and language, and for violence. Running time: 87 min.
Tags: Starring Douglas Spain, Efrain Figueroa, Kandeyce Jorden, Martha Velez and Lysa Flores. Directed, written by Miguel Arteta, Produced by Matthew Greenfield, Fox Searchlight, Drama
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