Filmed in Los Angeles by Zev Braun Pictures in association with TriStar Television. Executive producer, Zev Braun; co-executive producer, Karen Lamm; producer, Vahan Moosekian; co-producer, Philip Krupp; associate producer, Steve Kent; director, Larry Elikann; writer, Philip Rosenberg; CBS’ “Menendez: A Killing in Beverly Hills” is the latest in a growing genre of TV movies based on TV trials, and the second based on the Menendez murder case, the first a two-hour movie on Fox last month. Cameras in the courtroom have only whetted viewer appetite for the gory details, so it’s not surprising CBS would turn this one into a four-hour miniseries. But while smoothly produced and expertly acted, these four hours are two too long.
The mini’s first half is a powerful portrait of a family about to explode. Lyle (Damian Chapa) and Eric (Travis Fine), the Menendez brothers accused of murdering their rich parents in 1989, are compellingly shown as children under siege. The movie portrays their father (Edward James Olmos) as a dictator whose verbal abuse is constant and vicious, and their mother (Beverly D’Angelo) as an alcoholic who remains miserably and helplessly on the sidelines.
Chapa and Fine are fantastic. Chapa makes Lyle hard as nails — an overachiever with so much pent-up rage that he seems capable of anything. Fine makes Eric more complex, and he slips seamlessly in and out of the younger brother’s multilayered neuroses.
For those who believe the brothers were emotionally abused, Olmos’ performance will not change their minds. His relentless portrayal sucks away any sympathy one might have had for Jose Menendez. D’Angelo, with the least to do, seems genuinely incapable of action.
Pic’s second half basically re-enacts the events surrounding the trial and the trial itself — facts already known in detail to most viewers. That means the drama needs to be invented, but having women pop out of bedrooms in fancy lingerie, which happens often, doesn’t do it.
The script by Philip Rosenberg is straightforward — sometimes to the point of cliche — and covers a lot of ground clearly. Direction by Larry Elikann keeps things boiling and, combined with the contrasting cool, moody camera work of Eric Van Haren Noman, effectively evokes the bizarreness of the case.