Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil, and Vile Review
Extremely reluctant to come clean
Zac Efron goes dark for this biographical drama, taking a look at serial killer Ted Bundy from the point of view of his long term girlfriend.Efron may have started off in some quite lightweight fare, and may frequently get typecast in comedies, but he's at least tried a few different movies along the way, including the underrated Lee Daniels drama, The Paperboy. Even when diverging, however, he has generally erred in the favour of a good protagonist - flaws notwithstanding - with this latest role putting an interesting spin on what the world has come to expect from him.
Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil, and Vile is also unusual because, by focusing largely on the relationship between Bundy and his girlfriend Liz, the story could quite easily be spun into one of those mystery dramas where a seemingly wrongly accused man ends up actually being guilty (or not), but where the tension comes from being torn as to whether or not they actually did it. Here everybody knows the name Ted Bundy, but the angle is exactly the same, with Ted and Liz going around in circles as the man goes to extreme lengths to try and remain ostensibly good, fighting the authorities, and maintaining his innocence, particularly in the eyes of the woman he seemingly loves.
It's a juicy role for Efron, worth watching for him alone, even if it's neither taut nor dramatic enough to afford a truly compelling watch
The story initially kicks back and forth a little jarringly, with Ted in prison, receiving a visit from Liz, before winding back to their first meeting in a bar and his warm behaviour towards her and her young daughter. After a spate of murders, it's not long before he gets arrested, but Ted maintains his innocence, seeking repeated appeals despite successive convictions and, when that doesn't work, trying to just flat out escape instead - and somehow keeping Liz on side for a long part of it, despite the increasingly nagging doubts.
Despite the unusual angle (which is similar to American Crime Story's O.J. tale, only that focused on the defence attorneys going to extreme lengths), this latest film - which has received a theatrical release, but is also up as a Sky Cinema Original as well (although, curiously, a Netflix Original in the US) - is really more of a TV movie, likely playing out better on the small screen. The twist in angle may be novel, but it hardly affords any tension to the piece, with more head-scratching particularly with respect to the lengths Bundy goes to convince the world of his innocence. That brings forth a curiosity factor, but it can't wholly compensate for the lack of tension, and maybe even drama, that you would normally expect from this kind of guilty man courtroom drama-style piece.
The director has pedigree with a series of features about killers, and fashions an interesting piece that all too often focuses on what feel like tabloid headlines, when it should really be razor-sharp on the two leads themselves. As a result, co-star Lily Collins (currently in Tolkien) comes across as a particularly weak character, hardly given any meat, with hardly anybody else striking out - late stage additions Kaya Scodelario (The Maze Runner franchise), Haley Joel Osmond (recently in the X-Files), Angela Sarafyan (Westworld), and John Malkovich (who has made a home for himself on Netflix with Bird Box and Velvet Buzzsaw) making for familiar faces, but not given much more than glorified cameo status.
Up as a Sky Cinema Original as well, it is really more of a TV movie, likely playing out better on a small screen
It's really all about Efron (a long way from The Greatest Showman), and he does a commendable job bringing the character to life, even if he doesn't always quite offer us insight into his true psychosis. He's charming and convincing, making for a celebrity accused and - were it not for the fact that you know the name - maybe even somebody you'd root for until you learned the truth. It's a juicy role for him, better than he is known for, and arguably worth watching for him alone, even if the TV movie surroundings are neither taut nor dramatic enough to afford a truly compelling watch.
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