The Chicano cultural background, abundantly detailed, adds some unusual seasonings to the familiar tale of the singing star extinguished in his prime -- in the same plane crash, in this case, as Buddy Holly and the Big Bopper. (There are also brief impersonations of a couple of other members of the choir of Rock-and-Roll Heaven: Eddie Cochran and Jackie Wilson.) Lou Diamond Phillips, a fresh face who more nearly resembles the young Ed Ames, is very good as the nicey-nice Ritchie Valens (but not whitey-white, as the father of his blonde high-school sweetheart notices straightaway: "What is he? Eye-talian?"), and Esai Morales is no less good as the much less nice older brother. The three Top Forty hits of Valens's own lifetime (feelingly performed by Los Lobos) chip in with generous emotional payoffs. Written and directed by Luis Valdez. 1987.

Duncan Shepherd

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