And the Emmy should go to . . . the beauty mark. Playing Elizabeth Taylor in the Lifetime movie “Liz & Dick,” Lindsay Lohan delivers her lines essentially as herself, LiLo, complete with her hoarse, flat voice and her blasé-meets-bratty affect. But oh that beauty mark, painted ever so exquisitely on her right cheek — it keeps telling us that she’s playing one of the 20th century’s most glamorous, elegant, and passionate women. It’s a consistent visual cue, like a Liz Taylor branding, reminding us, lest we forget, that Lohan is actually trying to be someone else.
OK, it’s not just the beauty mark; there are the wigs and the costumes, too, all of them lovely and carefully chosen as they span the early 1960s to the mid-1980s. There are the thick eyebrows and the dark eye makeup. Lohan has been styled as if she’s borrowing the Taylor look for a deluxe photo spread (which she actually did for “Interview” magazine in 2006). She definitely evokes the fashion evolution of the legendary actress and activist who was married eight times, twice to Richard Burton. Despite her freckles, which are worlds away from Taylor’s white skin, she suggests the Taylor surface.
But everything else about Lohan is completely wrong to play Taylor, and I don’t care how much Lohan and those attached to “Liz & Dick” claim that Lohan’s tabloid experiences and her history as a child star make her a natural for the role. For one thing, Taylor was mobbed by the paparazzi after she’d proven her talent and box office power; Lohan is a shallow performer who uses the press to boost her fame. She’s not a larger-than-life star like Taylor so much as a cheap buzz for schadenfreude-inclined tabloid readers. And for another thing, experience does not equal the ability to act. Duh. Otherwise Paris Hilton would knock this one out of the park. Lohan has lived in the media, but in this movie all she can do is roll her eyes and puff on an endless series of cigarettes.
“Liz & Dick,” which premieres Sunday at 9, follows the arc of Taylor’s love affair with Burton, who is played by Grant Bowler of “True Blood” and “Ugly Betty.” Taylor and Burton meet on the set of “Cleopatra” and fall in love despite the fact that they are both married to other people. And then the movie, written by Christopher Monger and directed by Lloyd Kramer, proceeds to deliver a cartoon version of their bumpy relationship. The pair make love, they drink, they fight, they make love, they drink, they fight. He insults her, he buys her jewelry, they make love, they drink, they fight.
It’s a tedious script that gets perked up only by a few campy cameos, including one by Creed Bratton from “The Office” as Darryl Zanuck yelling “Capishe?” Also amusing, if inadvertently so: A black-and-white re-creation of material from “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf,” with Lohan and Bowler as the warring couple. In short, the wan re-creation is a not-so-epic fail. If “Liz & Dick” were built on more epic fails, at least it would be entertaining.
Bowler gets most of the lines as Burton spews on about how beautiful Taylor is, or how their love will last forever, or how he can’t be with her. He is less miscast than Lohan, but still somewhat less than he should be, given Burton’s ferocity and charm. Bowler and Lohan never approach the kind of magnetism that a movie about Burton and Taylor must conjure in order to be convincing. Not that that dearth is going to stop many viewers from tuning into “Liz & Dick.” Just like in the fast lane, curiosity is always a factor.Matthew Gilbert can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @MatthewGilbert.