The true story of the Menendez murders will probably never be known, but “Honor Thy Father and Mother” does a good job of weaving together the sons’ defense of abuse with the evidence that made them appear as cold-blooded killers. Under exec producer Lance H. Robbins and producer Ronnie Hadar, Fox’s telepic takes no sides, leaving viewers to draw their own conclusions as to the motive behind the shootings of Jose and Kitty Menendez by their sons, Erik and Lyle.
Little time is spent on the trial itself — a wise decision, given that it played on Court TV and in the news for weeks and ended in mistrial for both brothers, who will be retried. Instead, the bond between the protective Lyle and the weaker Erik is clearly defined, as is their relationship with their demanding father.
Overall, the quality of the pic is high, which is surprising, given the salacious nature of the story and the speed with which the vidpic was produced. Michael Murray’s adaptation of “Blood Brothers” is faithful to the book, and Paul Schneider’s direction is even-handed. Shuki Levy’s melodramatic, over-the-top music, however, strikes a false note.
Pic opens and closes with the murders, with much of the story told in flashback. The crisscrossing between past and present occasionally makes it difficult to tell how much time has passed between scenes.
For the most part, though, the story is easy to follow and does a good job exposing the case’s turning points, such as when Erik tells his psychiatrist that he and Lyle murdered their parents.
James Farentino is scary as the ruthless, cold Jose; his portrayal almost makes one sympathetic to the sons. Jill Clayburgh’s turn as Kitty is incomplete, but that has more to do with the script than Clayburgh’s performance.
Billy Warlock’s Lyle is as frightening as Farentino’s Jose; David Beron also does a fine job as the emotional, conflicted Erik. Susan Blakely never captures defense attorney Leslie Abramson’s almost manic energy and intensity.
This Menendez movie, the first of several planned, may beat out the others in more than just timing.