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
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'
Copyright © 1999 Brian Koller