STREAMING MOVIE "Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile"
WHEN | WHERE Friday on Netflix
WHAT IT’S ABOUT In a decade of the Zodiac, the Son of Sam and the Hillside Stranglers, the serial killer Ted Bundy managed to stand out from the pack. Unlike many of his peers, he was a sociable, upwardly mobile type with a college degree, a long-term girlfriend and a possible future as a lawyer. It was only when his 1979 trial became the first to be nationally televised that America got to see the man who used his good looks and natural charisma to seduce scores of young women before killing them.
Joe Berlinger’s “Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile” finds its Bundy in none other than Zac Efron, the twinkly-eyed Disney Channel alum. With Lily Collins as Bundy’s long-term girlfriend Liz Kendall and Kaya Scodelario as his most loyal admirer, Carole Ann Boone, “Extremely Wicked” dramatizes the peak predatory years of Bundy’s life and his eventual downfall.
MY SAY It’s easy to see why Berlinger would be drawn to this story. Berlinger is a director who has focused largely on crime documentaries; his 1996 film, “Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills,” is a landmark of the genre. Having already delivered a documentary on Bundy for Netflix, “The Ted Bundy Tapes,” Berlinger now has a chance to dramatize this chilling case.
You might think Berlinger would make a skin-of-the-teeth thriller that chronicles Bundy’s uncanny ability to avoid detection, escape custody and — even on the lam — continue to murder young women. Or perhaps a procedural, told from the point of view of the detectives and prosecutors. Or maybe a dark commentary on the creepy nexus between murder and the modern media. (The more nauseating details of Bundy’s crimes, by the way, have been largely forgotten in the mists of time.)
Strangely, Berlinger opts for the least interesting approach: A drama from the viewpoint of Kendall, who lived with Bundy for years but knew nothing of his murders and had little to do with him after his arrest. (The film is based on Kendall’s memoir and written by Michael Werwie.)
This is a miscalculation, to say the least. The movie has a great gift in Efron, a comedy star (“Neighbors,” “Baywatch”) who seems positively psyched to dig into the role of a villain. With his sparkly eyes and shaggy, mid-'70s haircut, Efron plays the part well. When Bundy proposes to Kendall — shortly after his arrest for kidnapping! — we know we’re watching a psychopath in action. Even so, we almost believe he’s sincere.
Efron has fine company, too. Scodelario is quite good as Boone, the faithful Squeaky Fromme to Bundy’s Manson, and John Malkovich is wonderfully sanguine as the Florida judge whose summation of Bundy’s crimes provides this movie’s title. Collins has less to do as Kendall, who mostly sits home wondering how she got mixed up with a serial killer and why she still loves him.
“Extremely Wicked” doesn’t have the stomach to show us Bundy’s crimes. It doesn’t tell us why he committed them. And it doesn’t seem interested in how he was stopped. In the end, the movie mostly feels redundant, a recap of what we already knew.
BOTTOM LINE A mundane dramatization of one of America’s most sensational murder cases.