Lifetime's Liz & Dick a festival of ick
11/20/12 08:29 AM
By ED BARK
Lifetime's Liz & Dick is another hallmark of our times.
Not that it should have been made at all. But because it exists for the sole exploitive purpose of baiting the masses with another heavy-duty show biz basket case. There's a lot of that going around.
FX gainfully took the plunge with Charlie Sheen in Anger Management. Fox is deploying Britney Spears as an X Factor judge after recycling loopy Paula Abdul in the show's first season. Chris Brown got more prime-time exposure at Sunday night's American Music Awards on ABC, where the heavily tatted woman beater performed shirtless. Super-dysfunctionals Ryan and Tatum O'Neal starred in a reality series on Oprah Winfrey's OWN network. Dr. Drew Pinsky only recently kicked his addiction to Celebrity Rehab, which ran for five seasons on VH1. And the Kardashians remain omnipresent.
Lindsay Lohan effortlessly rises to the top of the above list. And now here she is as Elizabeth Taylor in a thoroughly ridiculous movie that at least finds her perfectly at home with a drink and cigarette constantly at the ready. Then again, she's had a little practice.
Liz & Dick premieres Sunday, Nov. 25th at 8 p.m. (central) on Lifetime, which is getting lots of attendant publicity as expected. Lohan recently "disapponted" Barbara Walters (to hear Babs tell it on The View) by stiffing her for a scheduled interview and instead segueing to the cozier confines of Jay Leno's Tonight Show. And the movie's executive producer, old-line veteran Larry A. Thompson, has been happily promoting Liz & Dick by regaling interviewers with stories about having to get "incarceration insurance" for Lohan in case she got hauled away.
The finished product, with New Zealand actor Grant Bowler (True Blood, Ugly Betty) along for the ride as Richard Burton, is basically a collection of spliced-together snippets in which the two boozy principals live lavishly, insult one another, make up, rinse and repeat.
Charitably put, Lohan just doesn't have the looks to play Liz. Nor anywhere near the acting chops. She's so unsexy in the role that her "Elizabeth wants to play" come-on, delivered in a negligee while sucking on a cigarette, is more an invitation to flee in horror than to give in. Lohan amazingly is still only 26. But all that hard-living already makes her more fit for The Ethel Merman Story.
Liz & Dick begins in Celigny, Switzerland on "The Last Day of Richard Burton's Life," viewers are informed in print. He's writing a death bed letter to her while Dean Martin's "Just In Time" livens things up. Sample passage: "I fell for you the moment I saw you. All those years ago at a party in Hollywood. You were everything I wanted. Even when you looked at me with utter disdain, I thought you were just luscious."
They didn't connect until the notoriously expensive film Cleopatra. But before Liz & Dick gives that epic a bargain basement look, we get Liz and Dick in black against a black backdrop. They're talking to the camera and to each other, remembering the way they were via a recurring save-on-production-costs device that never achieves liftoff.
Both were married during Cleopatra, Dick to Sybil Burton (Tanya Franks) and Liz working on husband No. 4, singer Eddie Fisher (Andy Hirsch). As the movie depicts it, Taylor had no interest in the infatuated Burton until he climbed aboard during a love scene and lengthily kissed her into submission. Liz & Dick then makes sport of aides' efforts to hide their affair from the two jilted spouses, resorting to jaunty Muzak while Sybil and Eddie are diverted from the two stars' trailers.
"I don't need a pool. I've got a while ocean in you," Dick eventually gets around to telling her after they emerge from a bubble bath and onto a hotel bed. When he amuses her, Lohan's Liz often responds with a Nicotine laugh.
Liz & Dick also makes a little room for her mom, Sara (Theresa Russell), and his brother, Ifor (David Hunt). Both are thinly drawn, around mainly to fret or become exasperated by the excesses and bad behavior on display. At one point, Lohan's Liz cries out, "I'm bored! I'm so bored!" And at another, "I need a ring. A big ring."
Through it all, Dick affectionately calls Liz "Dumpy" in times when he's not angering her with a "Miss Pudgy Digits" putdown. She's fond of throwing things -- at him or against a wall -- while he drinks deeply straight from the bottle on those occasions when he's miffed, depressed or happy. The film's second half rockets them through time and space, faking it to New York, Montreal, Puerto Vallarta, Portofino, Sardinia, Switzerland and Budapest.
Bowler somehow manages to summon a few halfway decent moments as Burton while Taylor is reduced to a spoiled, weepy, moody attention-seeker. She was far more than the sum of those parts, but Lohan perhaps just opted to play herself.
Those looking for depth will find none. Liz & Dick triumphs, however, as an amusement park for fans of the deeply dreadful. That's probably what they were going for anyway.