The Lifetime Original Movie “Liz & Dick” should not be called “Liz & Dick.” It should be renamed “Lindsay Lohan and an Actor Whom You May or May Not Remember as Cooter From ‘True Blood.’ ”
At no point in this unenergetic revisiting of the legendarily volatile romance between Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton does it actually feel like you’re watching Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. Instead, we get Grant Bowler (who really was Cooter on HBO’s “True Blood”) brooding and boozing as Burton and Lohan whipping through Cleopatra costumes, awards-show evening gowns, mod headbands and, most comically, ’80s era-bouffant wigs like she’s the sole contestant in a Liz Taylor lookalike contest. It’s unconvincing and lifeless but, sadly, not quite laughable enough to rise to the level of enjoyably campy little lark.
None of this is good news for Lohan. For those who haven’t been keeping track of the non-stop TMZ breaking news-a-thon that is the former child star’s life — and truly, it is a full-time job — this pseudo-biopic was supposed to mark her official reinvention. After many months of probation hearings (she finally finished serving probation in March in a DUI case that dated to 2007); run-ins with police; self-defensive tweets; and various other attempts to reinvent her image, “Liz & Dick” was supposed to be the project that finally pushed Lohan into a much-needed new chapter in her career. Breaking non-TMZ news: It isn’t. If she wanted a comeback, she should have stuck to the genre in which she has demonstrated the most skill: comedy, of the intentional kind.
To emphasize how right she was for the role, Lohan has said in several interviews that she can relate to Taylor’s struggles, particularly regarding the news media’s intrusion into her personal dramas. But mere empathy does not a performance make. Lohan, bless her “Freaky Friday” heart, tries her absolute best, bawling at full-tilt and screaming at Bowler with all the ferocity her raspy, ravaged voice will allow. (Also, for the record, she’s really quite good at throwing fragile objects.) But she lacks Taylor’s majesty and elegance. Even at her messiest, Taylor projected a sophistication and reserve of strength that Lohan simply cannot muster.
The degree to which Lohan has been miscast here becomes even more apparent when she stands nose to nose with Bowler. In real life, Taylor was six years younger than Burton, but Lohan and Bowler are separated by 18 years. Since the makeup department does next to nothing to age Lohan over the two-plus decades in which the movie takes place, Bowler winds up looking like a long-lost older Baldwin brother who’s dating his agent’s hot niece.
But all the problems with “Liz & Dick” cannot be placed solely on the shoulders of its stars. For one thing, the writing is pretty wretched.
“I don’t need a pool,” Dick tells Liz in one of the blissful moments in their early courtship. “I’ve got a whole ocean in you.”
“I don’t loathe you, I hate you,” Liz spits at him in another scene, less than a half-hour later. This all happens before they get married the first time, divorce and then get married and, later, divorce again.
Also, a completely unnecessary series of vignettes in which Taylor and Burton, existing seemingly outside of time and space, speak directly to camera intrudes on the narrative flow, making the movie feel, at times, like an episode of “The Office” by way of “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” (Speaking of “The Office,” one of the bright spots in this slog occurs when Creed Bratton briefly pops up as Darryl Zanuck, addled producer of Taylor’s and Burton’s famously disastrous first foray into co-stardom, “Cleopatra.” An entire film in which Creed tries to make major motion pictures: Why couldn’t Lifetime have turned that into an Original Movie?)
There is one moment in “Liz & Dick,” however, that may elicit some genuine emotion. It happens during a 40th birthday party that Burton throws for Taylor. The actress — still looking like a 26-year-old Lindsay Lohan — overhears two catty guests whispering about how she’s no longer a star. Injured, she dashes from the room and curls up like a distraught, dolled-up little girl in her luxuriously large Oscar-winner’s bed.
There, the revered, sometimes mocked and unforgettable Liz Taylor, weeps. “I’m a joke,” she chokes out through her sobs.
All one can see, though, is Lindsay Lohan wearing a fancy gown, pretending to have reached middle age and grieving too soon for a career that once was unquestionably bright.
(two hours) Sunday at 9 p.m. on Lifetime