A dreadful TV movie that looks more like a creepy high-school play, Menendez: Blood Brothers, premiering Sunday night on Lifetime, stars former rocker Courtney Love as the mother of Erik and Lyle Menendez, the brothers who murdered their parents in 1989.
The movie begins by laying out the motive for the killings, as we see father Jose Menendez (American Crime’s Benito Martinez) sneaking into the bedroom of Erik to sexually abuse him. Flashbacks tell us that this has been occurring since the boy’s childhood. Mother Kitty (Love) is aware of what’s going on, but, pickled in booze, she tells Erik to just ignore it. Lyle also comes in for heavy verbal abuse, not the least of which occurs when, while still a teen, he starts wearing a hairpiece.
As written by Abdi Nazemian, Blood Brothers positions Erik (Myko Olivier) and Lyle (Nico Tortorella) as helpless victims who shout things to each other such as, “They’re gonna kill us, Erik, it’s us or them!” The murders occur in the first half-hour, and after the brothers lower their rifles, the bloodbath has spattered a framed family photograph that directors Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato cannot cut to more often. (And yes, it took two people to direct this melodramatic mess.)
Of the two parent roles, Love has the more difficult one, if only because, once Kitty is dead, she has to keep popping up as a figment of Lyle’s imagination. Kitty shimmers into view as Erik is in an elevator or in a jail cell, and she coos loving words to her son. Olivier and Tortorella can’t really establish themselves as distinctive performers, since their lines are interchangeable and they both seem to have been instructed by the directors to maintain the same sullen expressions throughout.
The trial is long and tedious and spends too much time in the jury room, where the jurors are shown to have retrograde 1990s-era attitudes toward sexual molestation and homosexuality. You know you’re trapped in a bad piece of writing when the movie gives you minor characters to sneer at dismissively.
NBC is working on something called Law & Order True Crime: The Menendez Murders; I guess we’ll have to wait to see if it’s any better than this, although I wish none of us would have the opportunity to watch anything about this sordid subject again. Lifetime is calling Blood Brothers a “docu-special,” but it’s more like a “schlockumentary.”
Menendez: Blood Brothers airs Sunday night at 10 p.m. on Lifetime.