Star Maps (1997)
Directed by Miguel Arteta
Cast: Douglas Spain, Efrain Figueroa, Lysa Flores, Kandeyce Jorden, Martha Velez, Annette Murphy, Robin Thomas, Vincent Chandler, Al Vicente.
1997 90 minutes
Rated: (for violence, profanity, nudity, and sex).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman, November 8, 1998.
"Star Maps," an independent film that premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in 1997, is a decidedly weak drama that simply isn't tightly enough written or plotted to be satisfying, despite some notable performances.
Carlos (Douglas Spain), a young man in his late teens, returns to his Latino family's home in Hollywood and immediately is hired by his troublesome father, Pepe (Efrain Figueroa), to sell star maps, which point the way to the homes of celebrities, even though it actually is secretly a prostitution job. Carlos goes along with it, despite the warning of his caring older sister, Maria (Lysa Flores), and ill mother (Matha Velez), because what he really wants to do is become an actor, which his father assures him his job will eventually lead to. When one of Carlos' customers, Jennifer (Kandeyce Jorden), an actress on a soap opera, tells him she will get him a gig on her show, Carlos begins to think everything is turning up for him, but his father has different plans for him.
"Star Maps" is a technically well-made film, but one that is overstuffed with subplots, and not particularly successful when dealing with its characters. Aside from the central story, we've also got subplots involving Pepe and his own girlfriend (Annette Murphy); Maria's relationship with a kind-hearted pharmacist (Vincent Chandler); Carlos' mother, who is suffering from a nervous breakdown; and a lot of goings-ons involving the soap opera. Director Miguel Arteta might very well be a fine director, but in his film debut, he seems to have taken all of his ideas and mixed them up together into a 90-minute film. Because of this, there is not nearly enough time with any of the stories, and it eventually comes off feeling empty.
Flores, as Carlos' sister, gives a strong and poignant performance as a young woman who longs for a relationship but does not want to leave her ailing mother. And Jorden is also fetching as the actress who may be Carlos' answer to fame. I believe it is Jorden's acting abilities, not the screenplay, that makes her character feel wholly three-dimensional. Murphy is also memorable as Carlos' father's girlfriend, who is unknowing of how much of a liar Pepe actually is. All of the performances are quite good, but all of their individual stories would have fared better if each one had been made into a separate film, since they are all interesting people.
If there is one plotline that doesn't work, it is, unfortunately, the central one. Although the premise of people selling star maps, and themselves as prostitutes, is captivating enough, not enough is done with it, and so it feels like a missed opportunity, and just a gimmick to hang all of the other stories on it.
There is a lot that's good in, "Star Maps," and yet, it is clear after seeing it that it desperately needed another rewrite. Ultimately, the film plays like a rough draft in search of a final one.
© 1998 by Dustin Putman