Star Maps

1997, R, 90 min. Directed by Miguel Arteta. Starring Douglas Spain, Efrain Figueroa, Kandeyce Jorden, Martha Velez, Lysa Flores, Annette Murphy, Robin Thomas.

REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., Aug. 8, 1997

Everybody hustles; a little here, a little there, it's a fact. But in Miguel Arteta's first feature film, Star Maps, hustling (in the hard core sense of selling your body for sex) is a way of life, a family tradition passed down from father to son. Star Maps is the kind of original filmmaking debut that's sure to be noticed. For all its depiction of lurid subject matter and perverse family relationships, Star Maps also balances its heavy drama with a strong dose of comedy and magical happenings. It's a precarious and potentially disastrous juggling act and one that Star Maps pulls off with a genuine flair. The movie also bucks the tendency of modern Latino cinema to be focused primarily on issues of cultural identity and the establishment of positive role models and images. Families hardly come more dysfunctional than the one into which Carlos (Spain) was born. Eighteen-year-old Carlos wants to become an actor and believes there's no reason that a poor Mexican kid such as himself can't become a big Hollywood star. His dad Pepe (Figueroa) has other plans for his son. Like many a dad, Pepe staunchly believes that Carlos should join the family business: bisexual hustling in Beverly Hills, using the street corner ruse of selling star maps to celebrity homes as a decoy for their hookers-a-go-go scheme. Pepe has made his entire family miserable. His wife has suffered a nervous breakdown and now spends her time in her bedroom, watching TV and conversing with the ghost of the revered Mexican comedian Cantinflas. His other son is a housebound horror who does nothing but watch TV, masturbate, dress up in bondage attire, and occasionally attempt to mount his sister Maria (Flores, a musician who also serves as the film's musical director). Maria, inexplicably, has turned out to be the only sane one of the bunch. When one of his tricks, an actress in an Aaron Spelling-like soap, takes a liking to Carlos and gets him a role on her show as a stereotypically “hot muchacho” houseboy, Carlos sees his chance to make a break. But this, too, leads to more broken dreams and two concluding sequences that counterbalance the sight of a savage act of violence with a fantastical flight of fancy. Occasionally, the unevenness of the performances in Star Maps becomes distracting and the dastardliness of the characters' dysfunction impinges the bounds of dramatic believability, yet you will be hard-pressed to find another directorial debut this year that equals the narrative and structural audacity of Star Maps.

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Star Maps, Miguel Arteta, Douglas Spain, Efrain Figueroa, Kandeyce Jorden, Martha Velez, Lysa Flores, Annette Murphy, Robin Thomas

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