Lindsay Lohan lacks the charisma to be a convincing Elizabeth Taylor
BY LORI RACKL TV Criticfirstname.lastname@example.org November 22, 2012 9:34AM
Grant Bowler (“Richard Burton”) and Lindsay Lohan (“Elizabeth Taylor”) re-create the making of "Cleopatra" in the Lifetime Original Movie, Liz & Dick, premiering Sunday, November 25, at 9pm ET/PT on Lifetime.
‘LIZ & DICK’ ★1/2
8 p.m. Sunday on Lifetime
Updated: December 24, 2012 6:51AM
‘Liz & Dick” airs Sunday on Lifetime, but many scenes would be a better fit for “Saturday Night Live.”
The biopic about the tempestuous love affair between Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton — hyperbolically dubbed “the television event of the year” by the cable network — isn’t offensively bad. But it is by no means good.
This unassailable fact isn’t likely to keep “Liz & Dick” from drawing lots of eyeballs, a fair share of which will no doubt belong to folks tuning in to see if this is indeed Lindsay Lohan’s “highly anticipated comeback movie role” — more Lifetime hyperbole, given LiLo’s middling performance.
The made-for-TV film follows the precipitous ups and downs of Taylor and Burton’s relationship, which got off to a scandalous start in 1961 on the set of “Cleopatra.” (In her Queen of the Nile get-up, Lohan looks more Kardashian than Taylor.)
Spliced in throughout the movie we see Taylor and Burton (Grant Bowler) seated on a dark stage, recalling their experiences through a series of flashbacks.
“You were everything I ever wanted,” Burton says dramatically. “Even when you looked at me with utter disdain, I still thought you were just ... luscious.”
These flashbacks make up the bulk of the 88-minute film that centers on the couple’s booze-soaked, can’t-keep-our-hands-off-each-other courtship and the first of their two failed marriages.
“These people loved each other and they drove each other crazy,” said the movie’s executive producer, Larry A. Thompson, who inherited his mother’s fascination with the violet-eyed Oscar winner. He named his 10-year-old daughter Taylor after the legendary actress.
“In many ways, Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton just lived outside the norm and had no rules,” he said. “They lived a life of excess, whether it was drinking or spending.”
Hedonistic recklessness isn’t much of a stretch for Lohan, who’s more famous for her antics off screen than on. The “Mean Girls” star proves that she can pout, get drunk and throw a bottle against a wall — something she does repeatedly in the movie. But Lohan, 26, isn’t believable as Taylor. She doesn’t come close to exuding the kind of larger-than-life presence befitting one of Hollywood’s all-time biggest stars.
Lohan’s uneven performance vacillates between being OK — even decent, in the tantrum scenes — to ringing hollow. New Zealand actor Grant Bowler’s (“True Blood,” “Ugly Betty”) sometimes overly enthusiastic portrayal of the bombastic, belligerent Burton looks like an “SNL” parody when set against Lohan’s dialing-it-in demeanor. At times it feels like Bowler and Lohan are in two different movies: one where he’s compiling his Emmy highlight reel and another where she’s wondering what to wear that night to the Viper Room.
Thompson said he cast Lohan because he thought she could bring “magic” to the role — as well as a fan base unfamiliar with the earlier era of Taylor, who died last year at the age of 79.
“A lot of young people today think Elizabeth Taylor is an old woman sitting in a wheelchair next to Michael Jackson, whereas our movie is about the young, vibrant, highest-paid movie star in the world, at the height of her beauty and her power,” Thompson said.
“Liz & Dick” introduces us to Taylor at 29, already on her fourth marriage. She and her Welsh “Cleopatra” co-star embark on a highly public extramarital affair, earning them condemnation from the Vatican for “erotic vagrancy.”
We watch the lovers booze and bicker their way through an impressive list of exotic locales: Monte Carlo, Switzerland, Italy, Hungary, Botswana and Mexico, as well as New York and L.A. Their comings and goings are chronicled by swarms of paparazzi, which also trailed Lohan during the making of “Liz & Dick.”
“There were paparazzi following us around, hanging out of trees, every day,” Thompson said. “It was life imitating art, art imitating life.”
Paparazzi proved to be just one of the occupational hazards of working with the former Disney kid.
“Producing a movie with Lindsay Lohan is not for the faint of heart,” Thompson said. “I turned 50 shades of white during the production.”
Lohan’s contract included “pages and pages of ‘what if?’ clauses” in case the actress got into a car accident (which she did) or violated her probation and landed back behind bars (which she still may). “She might be the most insured actress who ever walked on a soundstage,” Thompson said.
“We did have a couple of incidents which forced us to readjust production,” he added. “But overall, relative to the performance we got and the movie we were able to make because of her, the risk was worth the reward. The pain was worth the pleasure.”
Taylor and Burton might say the same about their relationship — a relationship that, as salacious as it was a half-century ago, doesn’t come across as all that shocking or monumental when seen through today’s scandal-du-jour lens.
What that relationship does come across as in “Liz & Dick” is a largely dysfunctional partnership between two petulant, selfish people whose favorite pastime is trading insults and fat barbs.
“You could stand to lose a few pounds,” Taylor tells Burton while sunbathing on the couple’s yacht.
“Yes, but at least mine doesn’t all pool in my fingers, Miss Pudgy Digits,” he shoots back.
That hardly sounds like the couple described on Lifetime’s website as sharing “an undeniable love greater than most people could ever dream of.”
More Lifetime hyperbole.