La Bamba | Chicago Reader

La Bamba

50s rocker Ritchie Valens, ill-fated flight companion of Buddy Holly and the Big Bopper, is the subject of this pop biopic cum consciousness raiser by Latino-crossover specialist Luis Valdez (Zoot Suit). Nothing out of the ordinary here—it's solid, conventional filmmaking, more preoccupied with domestic melodrama and personal crises than the nature of Valens's talent (hardly surprising: families are the democratic fate of all, but what audience relates to singular genius?)—though Valdez obviously intends more with his story than familiar rags-to-riches parable. The contrast between square, successful Ritchie (Lou Diamond Phillips, improbably scrubbed of barrio grit) and his drug-dealing older brother (Esai Morales) is Valdez's social-worker wedge; he pushes hard for assimilationist compromise and middle-class dreaming, while giving a demystifying back of the hand to macho brother's barrio strut and posture (strangely, castrating mom gets off with hardly a Freudian reprimand). It's probably too pat and simpleminded to convince the young target audience, but the actors are mostly appealing and Valens's 50s hits (dubbed in by Los Lobos) are given their energetic due. With Rosana DeSoto, Elizabeth Peña, and Joe Pantoliano.

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