American Fable is ambitious, maybe too much so sometimes, but there's an intense pleasure in the boldness of the film's style.
In his best performances, Lou Diamond Phillips conveys a low-simmering anger just below the surface. His winning smile conceals contempt that his eyes give away. As early rock-and-roller Ritchie Valens in “La Bamba” (1987), the role that propelled him to brief stardom but an enduring career, he channels this inner resentment into an aggressive performance of Lieber and Stoller’s “Framed.” “I knew I was a victim/of someone's evil plan/When a stool-pigeon walked in and says, 'That's your man!'" he snarls while banging out nasty bar chords on a cheap guitar as a barroom brawl breaks out. “I was framed/Framed, I was blamed.”
Phillips’ latest turn in “The Night Stalker” has him playing Richard Ramirez long after the serial killer’s mid-1980s reign of terror where he crept into suburban homes and raped and killed the inhabitants, often leaving behind pentagrams drawn in blood or lipstick. Playing a once-imposing figure now declawed by cancer and confined to San Quentin’s death row, Phillips turns his signature hostility on himself by banging his head on his cell door until blood runs down his face in the movie’s opening scene.
“The Night Stalker” is coming to us on Lifetime on Sunday June 12 at 9 p.m., and will no doubt capitalize on the current appetite for true crime drummed up by the success of “The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story.” While “The Night Stalker’s” budget doesn’t afford it the slickness of “American Crime Story,” the movie still strives for a multi-layered approach to its criminal history during its 89 minute runtime.
Bellamy Young (ABC’s “Scandal”), plays Kit, a lawyer sent to San Quentin to find out if Ramirez murdered some Japanese vacationers at a hotel he used to work at during his younger days in El Paso, before he became California’s very real boogieman. She represents a man facing lethal injection for the crimes with only a few days left to get a stay-of-execution. While this plot device is historical fiction, it does have some basis in fact. In 2009, DNA testing tied Ramirez to the previously unsolved 1984 rape and murder of nine-year-old Mei Leung in San Francisco. Ramirez is known to have committed 14 murders, and suspected of several more. Ramirez died from B-cell lymphoma in 2013.