There is a poetic symmetry to having Lindsay Lohan star as Elizabeth Taylor in Lifetime's "Liz & Dick" (9 tonight): A modern tabloid star acts out the life of an older tabloid star.
But that alone can't make a tinsel town romance watchable. Such a film also needs strong performances and a coherent story. "Liz & Dick" boasts neither.
Instead, this is a pastiche of episodes in the relationship between Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton (Grant Bowler, "Ugly Betty") that are strung together without depth or exploration of the characters.
The tale is interrupted occasionally by Liz and Dick, dressed in black, seated in director's chairs, looking as if they're prepping for a production of "Love Letters" in heaven's waiting room. They reflect on their lives and relationship, directly addressing the camera and viewers. It's an odd narrative conceit that does little to pull the film together.
Written by Christopher Monger ("Temple Grandin") and directed by Lloyd Kramer ("Mitch Albom's The Five People You Meet in Heaven"), "Liz & Dick" begins on the day of Dick's death as he writes a letter to Liz that ends with, "Even when you looked at me with utter disdain, I still thought you were just ... luscious."
It's a howler of an introduction but rather perfectly sets the tone for what is to follow. Whenever "Liz & Dick" can take a turn for the obvious, it does. In one afterlife chatter segment, Liz says to Dick, "Like you had any idea what was going to hit you, buster," which is immediately followed by Dick getting hit across the face by his wife, Sybil, after he's cheated on her with Liz.
Mr. Bowler does a better job of building a consistent character, but Ms. Lohan's Elizabeth Taylor vacillates wildly. Sometimes she's believable as Liz -- the film's makeup team deserves kudos -- but other times her line delivery, the cadence, especially, sounds too modern to be believed.
Whatever her faults, Ms. Lohan is not the film's biggest problem. That would be the script, which fails to introduce characters or even explain plot developments. Early on Dick is often accompanied by Ivor, who seems to be some sort of assistant. Turns out he's actually Dick's brother, but the audience doesn't learn this until the movie is almost over and just in time to use the relationship as an explainer for Dick's behavior.
The film does offer a world tour of sorts, jumping from Rome to Puerto Vallarta and other global posh spots, but these backdrops look like CGI.
Ms. Lohan's presence does inspire one amusing, has-to-be-intentional moment of humor: Liz and Dick are pursued by paparazzi, and Liz declares, "Oh, they'll find someone else to stalk."
"You think?" Dick replies.
"Yeah, I think," she says deadpan, clearly speaking for both Elizabeth Taylor and the actress/tabloid magnet who plays her.
Rob Owen writes this Sunday TV column for Scripps Howard News Service. Contact him at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-2582. Read the Tuned In Journal blog at post-gazette.com/tv. Follow RobOwenTV on Twitter or Facebook. Rob Owen writes this Sunday TV column for Scripps Howard News Service. Contact him at: email@example.com or 412-263-2582. Read the Tuned In Journal blog at post-gazette.com/tv. Follow RobOwenTV on Twitter or Facebook. First Published November 25, 2012 5:00 AM