Maps to the Stars
⋆⋆ out of four stars
Rating: R for strong disturbing violence and sexual content, graphic nudity, language and some drug material.
Theater: Mall of America.

Julianne Moore adds another unforgettable performance to her résumé following her Oscar-winning turn in “Still Alice.” This time it’s one you wouldn’t wish to remember. “Maps to the Stars,” a noxious cautionary tale directed by David Cronenberg, contains as much sex and gore as any film the Hieronymus Bosch of body horror has created, to less value. Moore plays Havana, a fading star obsessed with rebuilding her career. She, along with all the film’s major characters, is a cruel, repulsive narcissist who lives in a luxury mansion and turns her facial expressions on and off like an emoticon. Partly it’s the characters’ shallow mentalities hiding their feelings. Partly it’s the script’s deliberately mysterious structure. The story only lets us decode it a bit at a time.

It’s imagined by novelist and screenwriter Bruce Wagner, a merciless hater of Hollywood, who knows everything about the film world’s sick side. His strength is his greatest weakness. He only cares about Hollywood psychopaths. Mia Wasikowska, who like Moore never delivers a bad performance, plays a young newcomer entering the Dream Factory with serious physical and emotional scars. The film begins with a shot of her sleeping through the nighttime bus ride to Los Angeles. What follows may be her deeply bad dream. In turbulent Wagner fashion, sometimes we know more than the characters, sometimes they know more than we do, and bewilderment reigns. Robert Pattinson plays the limo driver and would-be actor who takes her across Hollywood. Evan Bird is the egotistical, newly sober child star she claims to know. John Cusack and Olivia Williams are the massage psychotherapist and career adviser who are troublemaker Bird’s parents, profoundly suffering themselves.

Characters collide like terminal traffic accidents from Cronenberg’s “Crash” amid visions of ghosts, carnage, queasy eroticism, suicide and mental collapse. This is fatalistic drama with an accent on the “fatal.” COLIN COVERT

 

A la Mala
⋆½ out of four stars
Rating: PG-13 for some sexuality/nudity and language.
Theaters: Mall of America, Southdale.

Maria Laura, the heroine of “A la Mala,” is a thin, slinky bombshell of an actress who uses her talents to flirt with other women’s beaus to test their loyalty. Men are putty in her hands. If there’s a hint of yard dog in them, she tempts it out.

She has a plain Jane roommate, Kika, a goofball acting pal and a client, TV-producer Pamela, who promises Maria Laura a career-making role if she can tempt her ex away from his new girlfriend. But the ex is rich, handsome, charming and righteous, so Maria Laura is caught on the horns of a dilemma. Will her “ethics” allow her to follow her heart?

“A la Mala” is a Mexican romantic comedy in the “How to Lose a Guy in Ten Days/Failure to Launch/40 Days and 40 Nights” mold. Change the language to English, switch the starlet to Olivia Wilde and you’ve got a rom-com as shiny, shallow and clichéd as anything Hollywood has turned out over the past dozen years.

The camera just loves Aislinn Derbez as Maria Laura. The problem is that her friends have shortened her name to “Mala,” as in “cruel,” and Derbez suggests nothing of the sort. Mala has no cruelty about her and precious little guile. “A la Mala” begins with promise and finishes well enough to justify the investment in time. It’s all that dull, formulaic stuff mid-movie that sucks the salt right off the tequila glass and leaves this one too stale to swallow. ROGER MOORE