PG-13, 1987, 103 minutes, RCA/Columbia Pictures Home Video, $89.95.
Lou Diamond Phillips' compelling performance and the music of Los Lobos energize this cliche'd but enjoyable rock 'n' roll bio of Ritchie Valens. Despite its unhappy ending -- Valens died in a plane crash that also took the lives of the Big Bopper and Buddy Holly -- "La Bamba" is basically a Cinderella story. In 1957, the 17-year-old Mexican American quit the apricot orchards to join a basement band, and in a matter of months he had three hits at the top of pop charts. To bolster Valens' all-too-short story, director Luis Valdez focuses on his relationship with his mother (Rosana De Soto), his jealous brother (Esai Morales) and his sister-in-law (Elizabeth Pena). Valdez then pads the plot with intrusive, if beautiful, flashbacks to illustrate Valens' fear of flying. These repetitious sequences, meant to give us premonitory goose pimples, seem to belong to another movie. But glitches aside, the Valens story remains inspirational in a pop-ish way.
NO WAY OUT R, 1987, 114 minutes, HBO Video, $89.95.
In "No Way Out," director Roger Donaldson winds up a lot of clocks and sets them ticking, ticking down. The movie's plot is complicated; it has wheels within wheels, gears within gears. Set in Washington, and starring Kevin Costner, Sean Young and Gene Hackman, it's a story about sex and murder in high places, cover-ups and spies -- a Washington story. The movie isn't a work of great originality or depth, and aside from the pro forma cynicism about politics and the private lives of politicians, it has hardly any politics at all. This isn't a movie you can assess in terms of relationships or ideas. And it doesn't want you to think much either (the details won't bear up to close scrutiny -- especially the ending). But in thriller terms it's close to irresistible. As the handsome young naval officer, Costner shows much more substance as a romantic lead than he did in "The Untouchables." And Gene Hackman makes interesting choices as the secretary of state who gets tangled up in the murder/cover-up of a local woman (Sean Young); he plays him as a weakling, not as a monster. The real performance in the film is given by Will Patton, who as Pritchard, the secretary's aide, is smooth, efficient and amoral. In other words, truly creepy. Patton is an electrifyingly unsubtle actor, but when he's onscreen the heat's turned up a notch.
PREDATOR R, 1987, 107 minutes, CBS/Fox Video, $49.95.
Arnold Schwarzenegger stars in this sci-fi soldier story, which pits Pecs-R-Us against a mean-spirited space critter with a hearty appetite for human flesh. Nearly invisible in its 3-D camouflage, the monster stalks and picks off Schwarzenegger's macho band of rescue commandos, one by one by one. In a script that cribs from "Aliens," the men drop into Central America to rescue hostages and explode trees, but soon find themselves battling the Predator for their very lives. Covered with mud and armed with wooden spears, the hopelessly outmatched hero goes one on one with the space thing in a manly finale. Bill Duke costars, givings his comic-book sidekick genuine heart and the movie a touch of true emotion. Otherwise, "Predator" follows the Schwarzenegger formula -- plenty of firepower, lots of racket, and loads of he-man lingo.
GOOD MORNING, BABYLON PG-13, 1987, 113 minutes, Vestron Video, $79.98.
Paolo and Vittorio Taviani, Italian brothers who work in tandem, directed this lushly photographed, absurdly melodramatic tale of Tuscan artisans in the early days of Hollywood. Vincent Spano and Joaquim De Almeida star as the spunky e'migre's -- close-knit brothers skilled in the restoration of cathedrals who turn their talents to building sets for D.W. Griffith's classic "Intolerance." After an inauspicious beginning, their American dream comes true: They become the toast of the town. But the brothers' success, as well as their closeness, is destroyed with the coming of World War II. A tortured plot, full of cosmic significance, finds the men reunited on a battlefield in Tuscany. The Tavianis are clearly out of their element in this, their first English-speaking drama. In a way, they have made a movie about themselves with this awkwardly wrought fable of Italian brothers who come to America to make movies and ultimately fail.
LOOKING AT MUSIC, Vol. 1 Unrated, 1987, 50 minutes, Video Arts International, $29.95.
Eventually, as the various home video formats become the standard recording media for most consumers, classical musicians will have to find ways of providing visual elements for the recording cameras along with the sounds they generate for the microphones. Swiss television director Adrian Marthaler has done substantial work in this direction, using the musicians themselves as visual stimuli. His works are "staged" in striking locales. Saint-Saens' "Danse Macabre" is played in an opera house with no audience, a conductor who comes on stage through a trapdoor from subterranean regions, and an orchestra made up to look like characters from "Night of the Living Dead." Bach's Brandenburg Concerto No. 2 is played in a spacious, starkly modern room with the soloists widely separated from one another and the orchestra and the musicians engaging in physical motions (walking, climbing stairs, approaching, separating and crossing paths) that parallel what is happening in the music. Visually, it beats the spectacle of a long line of violins, cellos or trombones, formally clad and pumping in unison. The eye is kept as happily busy as the ear and the visuals shed light on the structure and style of the music.