THE TV MOVIE "Liz & Dick"
WHEN | WHERE Sunday at 9 p.m. on Lifetime
WHAT IT'S ABOUT Elizabeth Taylor (Lindsay Lohan) and Richard Burton (Grant Bowler) met on the set of 1963's "Cleopatra," an outsized, bloated near-disaster that almost sank 20th Century Fox, but launched the Marriage -- Marriages, actually -- of the Century (They tied the knot twice.) This biopic picks up the story from there, following the back-and-forth (or up-and-down) relationship that endured -- sort of -- for more than 20 years.
MY SAY It takes guts for an actress to play Elizabeth Taylor -- guts, hubris, talent, empathy and a pretty generous capacity for risk. You'll have to draw your own conclusions about which of these drew Lohan to the role but it's a pretty fair guess the last two figured prominently. Both were famed child actresses who stoked the media's beyond-insatiable (bordering on insane) appetite for their off-screen antics -- though the comparison abruptly ends there. Taylor was spectacularly famous in a way that doesn't even exist anymore. She was a beautiful, sensual, earthy, libidinous (and bibulous) talent so huge that even the silver screen couldn't quite contain all of it. Then there's Lohan, famous for being infamous on and off a soundstage for pretty much longer than anyone can remember.
Suffice it to say, Lohan's no Taylor (not that anyone is or ever could be). But poor Linds doesn't stand a chance. As seen here, her skills are rudimentary -- made rustier by a long absence and a lot of other extracurricular activities. She delivers lines dutifully, competently, and at times woodenly, but she also looks like someone who has to think about what she has to say before she says it.
That's usually called "sleepwalking through a role" instead of actually "occupying" one. Lohan is somewhere in-between most of the time, though closer to sleepwalking.
The movie is set up as sort of a series of recollections, with Taylor and Burton on a dark set recalling the lurid past. Lohan's made up in dark red lipstick, light makeup and jet-black wig; it's a striking shot, and, in some ways, the best part of this film. She's drained, world-weary and cynical -- almost bored with the story she's telling. But whatever sort of spell comes out of those fleeting scenes is shattered the moment the flashbacks begin. Or as Burton says, "The performers know the lines . . . but they just keep coming out wrong . . ."
BOTTOM LINE "Liz & Dick" is not a complete disaster, nor entirely is Lohan, though she is rusty and badly miscast. But this standard-issue Lifetime biopic is a first step for her comeback, and that's better than no step at all.