It’s exciting to see Shyamalan on such confident footing once more, all these years later.
"La Bamba" opens with a sequence that at first seems like a memory. Some teenage boys are playing basketball in a school yard. Far overhead, a light plane drones through the sky. The colors of this scene are all washed out, as in an old memory, and the voices sound far away. There is slow motion. Another airplane appears. The basketball game continues. We are lulled by the feeling of a slow summer afternoon. Then the two planes collide and fall into the school yard below.
Because "La Bamba" is the story of Ritchie Valens, we assume this is his memory. But he was not present when the planes fell, and the scene represents how he might have imagined it. One of his friends was killed that day. He always assumed that if he had been in the school yard, he would have been killed, too. That was why he never liked to take airplanes.
The scene itself is very effective. But I wonder if it is the right way to open "La Bamba." Everyone who goes to this movie will know that Valens died in an airplane crash with Buddy Holly and the Big Bopper on Feb. 3, 1959, the day the music died. The opening scene is followed by several other references to Valens' fear of flying, and the effect is to put the whole movie under a cloud, to weigh down every scene with the knowledge of impending death.
That robs "La Bamba" of a quality I think it could use: the sense of fun. This is a sincere, well-acted movie about the short life of a minor rock 'n' roll star, and by the time it's over we almost have the feeling Valens would have been surprised not to have died in a crash.