Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile (2019) – Film Review
Director: Joe Berlinger
Cast: Lily Collins, Zac Efron, Kayla Scodelario
by Roger Crow / @RogerCrow
In the late 1980s, Phil Collins starred in a biopic of ‘Great Train Robber’ Buster Edwards. That ‘feelgood’ bittersweet love story peppered with hit songs rightly incurred the wrath of many critics for the fact Buster sort of glossed over the devastating impact the crime had on the innocent people involved.
Now Phil’s daughter Lily Collins stars in Sky Cinema’s Ted Bundy biopic, a bittersweet love story which feels like the very poor relation to director Joe Berlinger’s remarkable documentary Conversations with a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes.
This is also peppered with the odd song, but while giving it a flavour of the era, it also gives the movie a sense of ‘fun’. It’s a horribly misguided move which means whether intentional or not, you actually start rooting for the psychopath. And Bundy was definitely not some anti-hero robbing from the rich and giving to the poor.
“Heinous and inhuman”
Obviously in a four-part doc there’s plenty of time to take a deep dive into the cesspool of Bundy’s mind, a man I knew nothing about until a few months ago when I sat through the Netflix series twice. With 105 minutes you can only deliver an edited ‘lowlights’ version of Bundy’s life, and presenting it mostly from the point of view of his girlfriend Liz Kendall (Collins) was a good move.
For the most part, Zac Efron gives a good turn as Bundy, the charming, crowd-pleasing serial killer whose crimes were so heinous and inhuman, it’s just a shame he was able to get away with anything more serious than a parking violation for so long.
However, in an era when the US police didn’t have the benefit of the tech and resources they have now, not to mention the fact that they gave Bundy the sort of relaxed ‘do what you like’ privilege while at a Colorado courthouse, Ted was allowed to continue with his pursuits. His leap from a second-storey library window and ability to vanish is shocking but true.
And on that subject, any credibility this film might have had also goes out the window when Jim Parsons turns up as Larry Simpson, the Floridian legal eagle attempting to get the killer sent down. Now like many of the cast, he’s a fine actor who gives a great turn, but the baggage of playing Sheldon in The Big Bang Theory is so immense, it jeopardises what little suspension of disbelief the audience had. Unless of course they’d never seen the ubiquitous sitcom, in which case no problem.
By the third act, John Malkovich shows up as Edward D Cowart, the judge presiding over the first televised legal trial of its type. Malkovich looks nothing like the actual judge, though he does sell the part well. (Actors of a certain age must love playing judges for the fact they can spend the whole shoot sat down).
The trial turns into a media circus as Bundy plays to the cameras, and the court proceedings morph into a reality show years before the term was even coined. Haley Joel Osment, who wowed the world two decades ago in The Sixth Sense, also stars as Liz’s co-worker Jerry, along with Maze Runner/Pirates of the Caribbean veteran Kayla Scodelario as Bundy’s besotted lover Carol Anne Boone.
Certain questions raised by the documentary are filled in here, such as how did Bundy and Boone manage to conceive a child while he was locked up. Maybe it did happen the way it’s depicted here, with the aid of a bribe, but that’s the thing about Bundy’s life. Regardless of his horrific crimes – and they were off the scale – so much of his deeds seem so fantastic and unbelievable that it’s hard to imagine it ever happened.
It would be easy to call this Extremely Average, Shockingly Mediocre and Vile, but if it does nothing else but provide a gateway to the phenomenal Conversations with a Killer, then it’s not a complete waste after all.
There is a good drama about Ted Bundy waiting to be made, but this isn’t it.