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Fame's Hustle

Star Maps
Family Constellation: Brother and sister Carlos and Maria (Douglas Spain and Lysa Flores) discuss their hopes and dreams in 'Star Maps.'

A father's ridicule holds back a son's dreams of stardom in 'Star Maps'

By Richard von Busack

IN DIRECTOR/SCREENWRITER Miguel Arteta's feature-film debut, Star Maps, Douglas Spain plays Carlos, a young second-generation Chicano prostitute who works on the streets of Los Angeles selling maps to the movie stars' homes as a cover for his hustling. His ambition to be an actor is ridiculed by his father, Pepe (Efrain Figueroa), who is also his pimp. Carlos' mother, Teresa (Martha Velez), languishes after a nervous breakdown, staring at the moon and communing with the spirit of the beloved Mexican comedian Cantinflas. Carlos' brother, Pancho, is a half-wit who lounges around the house in tights and a luche libre wrestling mask. A beautiful female trick who happens to be a television star picks up Carlos and gives him a bit part on her show in gratitude for the sex. This lucky break, however, is thwarted by Pepe.

Star Maps wobbles between being a sensitive tale of a dysfunctional family and a Warhol/Waters/Morrissey/Bartel Hollywood satire. We're supposed to take Carlos' plight very seriously indeed while more bathos is added at every turn. Maybe if Spain had more skill, we'd believe that he possessed some thwarted talent, but from what we see of this blocked, awkward, self-absorbed young man, Carlos would be hard pressed to survive not just as an actor but even as a sex worker. He's as wooden with his clients as he is declaiming a few lines from Tennessee Williams' Sweet Bird of Youth.

Arteta does have a point about Latin stereotyping in the media, and the Williams quote is meant to function as a similar bit of A Streetcar Named Desire did, recited by Sandra Oh, in the far superior Double Happiness, where it was used to demonstrate that there is no reason an Asian woman can't play Blanche DuBois. But the lurid plot of Star Maps seems to be a way of disguising a film that might have been dismissed as a Latino version of Hollywood Shuffle. If it weren't for the sex, there wouldn't have been much of a movie to watch, and there certainly wouldn't have been much of a movie to sell. As Arteta tells it, it's just another story about a young man who wants to be a celebrity for the sake of celebrity, instead of for the sake of expressing himself. Star Maps slowly gets more artificial and melodramatic until it collapses into an unintentionally funny end.

Star Maps (R; 93 min.), directed and written by Miguel Arteta, photographed by Chuy Chavez and starring Douglas Spain and Efrain Figueroa.

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From the August 14-20, 1997 issue of Metro.

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