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La Bamba

movie reviewmovie reviewmovie review out of 4 Movie Review: La Bamba

Starring: Lou Diamond Phillips, Esai Morales
Director: Luis Valdez
Rated: PG-13
RunTime: 103 Minutes
Release Date: July 1987
Genres: Drama, Music, Romance

*Also starring: Rosana De Soto, Elizabeth Pena, Danielle von Zerneck, Joe Pantoliano, Rick Dees, Marshall Crenshaw, Brian Setzer

Review by Brian Koller
3 stars out of 4

"La Bamba" is a surprisingly good biography of ill-fated Mexican-American rock and roll star Ritchie Valens (Lou Diamond Phillips). While sometimes overdramatized, the film provides a good character study, not only of Valens, but of his troubled "black sheep" half-brother Bob (Esai Morales).

The story begins with Valens already a teenager, working as a day laborer with his strong willed but loving mother (Rosana De Soto) and family friend (and telegenic beauty) Rosie (Elizabeth Pena). Thanks partly to Bob's success as a drug dealer, Valens is able to attend a nice high school, where he meets WASP blonde Donna (Danielle von Zerneck).

He also joins a Rock and Roll band, with his energy and talent attracting the notice of Del-Fi talent scout Joe Pantoliano. Soon, Valens has a nationwide hit single and is touring the country. But while his career is soaring, his half-brother, now married to Rosie, becomes violently embittered over his success.

The most fun for me when watching this film was the casting of contemporary rock artists as their more famous 1950s counterparts. Marshall Crenshaw, who had always been compared to Buddy Holly, finally gets to play Buddy Holly. Stray Cats' guitarist Brian Setzer is an ideal match for rockabilly singer Eddie Cochran. The group Los Lobos dubs Phillip's impersonation of Valens. Carlos Santana performs the musical score. Valens' real life mother and half-brother have cameos. By the way, the real Ritchie Valens can be found in the fifties B-film "Go, Johnny, Go".

"La Bamba" is not a perfect film. Too much is made of Valens not speaking Spanish. He even has the line "Yo no speako Espa~ol", which strains credibility given the fact that everyone else in his family seems to speak Spanish fluently. A more obvious weakness is Morales' bad boy act, which recurs even more often than Ritchie's prophetic nightmare of two planes colliding. Also, the audience is led to believe that the tragic plane crash that killed Holly, Valens, and novelty singer Big Bopper was caused by the breaking of Valens' talisman necklace.

Copyright 1999 Brian Koller

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