By Chuck Barney
Contra Costa Times
You have to admit that there is a certain gimmicky appeal to having Lindsay Lohan play Elizabeth Taylor in the new Lifetime movie “Liz & Dick.”
Here’s a contemporary, pain-in-the-butt tabloid queen taking on the persona of the woman who, even before TMZ existed, had the paparazzi hanging on her every move.
Besides, anything Lohan does these days is going to attract attention.
So, based on curiosity alone, Lifetime and its casting people have made a good, ratings-boosting move.
But is it a good movie? Oh, don’t be silly.
In mostly flawed and flimsy fashion, “Liz & Dick” recounts the fiery, roller-coaster romance of Taylor and Richard Burton that began during the production of 1963’s “Cleopatra” in Rome and captured the attention of the world.
Over the ensuing years, they left their respective spouses, married and divorced, only to remarry and divorce once again.
The film opens in flashback, with voice-over commentary by Burton (Grant Bowler), reading a letter to Taylor on his dying day in 1984: “I fell for you the moment I saw you ... You were everything I ever wanted. ...”
Apparently, this was a habit.
Burton wrote Taylor every day over a period of 20 years, according to the film. But, of course, back on the set of “Cleopatra,” there was friction at the start with Taylor initially spurning advances by the brazen Welshman.
Finally, she gave in and they began rendezvousing in their trailers while members of the film crew scrambled to keep the actors’ spouses from finding out.
At one point, after their affair became public, the Vatican condemned their living-in-sin ways.
With raven hair and sparkly blue contacts, Lohan does capture the physical essence of Taylor, but falls woefully short in terms of on-screen charisma.
Bowler, meanwhile, nails Burton’s rich, melodic voice, but can’t match his rugged charm.
Both actors are handicapped by a script that not only is full of starchy dialogue, but fails to produce a cohesive narrative.
Instead, it’s mainly a string of melodramatic, name-calling, bottle-throwing arguments, followed by kiss-and-make-up moments in which Dick presents Liz with an expensive gift like a huge diamond ring or a private jet.
Most scenes carry all the emotional depth of a “Saturday Night Live” skit.
Consequently, viewers are given only occasional — and superficial — glimpses into the psyches of these two characters.
We see that Burton was deeply hurt and resentful over his failure to win an Academy Award (while Taylor won two).
And we are given only traces of Taylor’s insecurities when it came to her weight gains, a section of the film that the slim Lohan can’t make believable.
All of which doesn’t mean “Liz & Dick” doesn’t make for fun viewing if you go in with the right attitude.
It’s crammed with boozy, “Mad-Men”-era excess, styles and fashions.
And it follows the combative lovebirds from one exotic locale to another, hinting at a glittery lifestyle most of us can’t comprehend.
It also indirectly offers an intriguing juxtaposition between Taylor’s era and today’s media-saturated times.
You wonder how she and Burton would have handled the kind of around-the-clock, Internet-fueled, gossip-mongering machine that Lohan deals with.
On the other hand, as far we know, Lohan has never been condemned by the Pope.
Copyright 2012 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.