NEW YORK — The good news: If you thought “Liz & Dick” would be lame, you aren’t wrong.
The bad news: It falls short of being laughably, irresistibly bad. What a missed opportunity.
Even so, “Liz & Dick” probably will pay off for Lifetime, at least. Despite warnings (like — listen up — this one) that viewers not waste their time on this made-for-TV film, lots of them will fall prey to their curiosity and flock to “Liz & Dick” when it airs at 9 p.m. Sunday.
Although “highly anticipated comeback movie role” oversells the situation mightily, Lindsay Lohan also should benefit marginally from her involvement. As superstar Elizabeth Taylor, she has the opportunity to remind an audience that she is capable of appearing at places other than a courtroom.
“Liz & Dick” covers the epic quarter-century love affair of Taylor and Richard Burton, who, after meeting on the set of “Cleopatra,” ditched their respective spouses, wed, divorced, married again and split again, all while keeping the world thrilled and scandalized with their steamy, rocky romance.
But however colorful this love story, it confronts numerous hurdles en route to the screen.
For one thing, Liz Taylor is among the most recognizable and legendary stars of all time. Who can capture her presence in a biopic?
Clearly not Miss Lohan. Her hair is darkened, her lips are painted, her ample decolletage is put on display. But any resemblance to Taylor’s ivory voluptuousness is slight. In a scene where Burton celebrates her “spilling white-hot bosom,” his tribute falls flat. As a star and a sex symbol, Miss Lohan is smaller-than-life, not larger.
Meanwhile, she is unable (or can’t be bothered) to transform her throaty manner of speaking to resemble Taylor’s lilting, English-accented voice. Nor did the makeup artist bother covering Miss Lohan’s freckled shoulders and arms to match Taylor’s storied alabaster skin.
Notwithstanding her status as a tabloid cover girl, Miss Lohan in the past was regarded as a reasonably good actress.
Not here. For instance, when Taylor and Burton meet, both in costume, at the start of shooting “Cleopatra,” this electric moment is marked by his rakishly inquiring, “Has anyone ever told you you’re a very pretty girl?”
The best Miss Lohan can muster as a comeback: a roll of the eyes and an impatient sigh.
And what of Burton? He was an acclaimed Shakespearian stage actor when he took up with the Queen of the Silver Screen. He was also a boozer, a brawler and a silver-tongued charmer who could reduce Liz to heavy breathing when he countered her proposal that “We go to the pool” by declaring, “We don’t need a pool. I’ve got a whole ocean in you.”
Australian-born Grant Bowler (“True Blood,” “Ugly Betty”) does his best to portray Taylor’s Welsh leading man. But Mr. Bowler is most notable for not looking at all like Burton, while instead bearing a striking resemblance to Burton contemporary Christopher Plummer. At times, “Liz & Dick” appears to be a fantasy where Miss Lohan hooks up with Mr. Plummer (now 82) in middle age.
For those who simply must watch this film, the high point is the series of scenes re-created from the 1966 Taylor-and-Burton drama “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” They attempt to pull off a credible rendition of this classic film. Instead, Miss Lohan and Mr. Bowler seem to be spoofing it on “Saturday Night Live.”
On his and Taylor’s second wedding day, Burton, loutish as ever, toasts their tortured relationship thusly: “They love, they drink, they fight, they fornicate, they marry, they divorce, they marry again. Really, how long can this show run?”
How long, indeed, the viewer will be wondering.
“Liz & Dick” comes down to this: It doesn’t do Taylor or Burton any favors (nor, of course, could any such trifle do their legends any harm).
And whatever Miss Lohan’s hopes for a comeback at age 26, this flyweight endeavor won’t restore any luster to its fallen star.
If only it were worse.
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