She's Liz, but you can't help looking for LiLo

They were CinemaScopic film stars, with 12 Academy Award nominations between them. They were married 13 times in all, twice to each other.

They were Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, and their booze-soaked, storm-tossed romance is the subject of Lifetime's deliriously cheesy Liz & Dick (Sunday, 9 p.m.).

Most of the attention on this TV movie arose from the daily sideshow that was Lindsay Lohan's offscreen life during the production as the actress was portraying Taylor.

As you watch LiLo's performance, you can't help searching for signs of stress and distraction.

Did she shoot this scene on one of the days of her court appearances, or after her brief hospital stay for exhaustion? Or after crashing a car on the way to the set?

Ha! Taylor could do all of that in traction with a blinding hangover and then show up at the studio to rehypnotize a generation of filmgoers.

Today's performers don't know what scandal is. Taylor and Burton practically invented the paparazzi when the couple started cavorting around Rome during the shooting of the bloated toga epic Cleopatra, which was released in 1963.

Their torrid affair made headlines around the world because both were married at the time, Taylor to Philadelphia pop singer Eddie Fisher, who had left America's sweetheart, Debbie Reynolds, to wed the recently widowed film star.

Now she was cuckolding Eddie? For some Welsh actor with a booming voice?

In Liz & Dick, their mutual passion isn't so much infidelity as it is fate. After trading barbed insults on the Cleopatra set for weeks, the stars rehearse a love scene, leading to a kiss that goes on and on as cosmic thunderclaps fill the air.

The actors quickly fall into the dynamic that would rule their lives for the next 15 years: They can't live without each other, and they're spectacularly combustible when they're together.

Lohan's performance is notably flat and vapid, especially as the younger Taylor. She simply can't summon the breathtaking haughtiness that the '60s screen goddess radiated.

But most of the acting here is done by makeup, wigs, and contacts, and they are flawless. Wardrobe, not so much. In some of the more elaborate gowns and frocks, Lohan looks more like Snooki than La Liz.

The film is narrated by Taylor and Burton in side-by-side director chairs from some cinematic afterlife. Lohan carries off these vignettes of reflective, often regretful hindsight with genuine aplomb.

As Burton, Grant Bowler, a New Zealand-born actor best known for Ugly Betty, is rather smashing. The physical resemblance isn't there (that unfortunate unconditioned wig doesn't help), but the smudged swagger and the grandiloquent timbre Bowler projects are thoroughly winning.

Small wonder that Taylor's favorite form of afterplay in Liz & Dick is lying tangled in the sheets while Richard declaims the verses of the great British poets.

The film attempts to frame the couple as the harbingers of modern fame, but its ambitions are steamrolled by the impatience of a rushed chronological plot.

The Lifetime project is most striking for the resourcefulness of its sets and locations, convincingly conveying Rome, Switzerland, London, Puerto Vallarta, and various ports of call in the Mediterranean without ever leaving Southern California.

If only Lohan had been able to pull off a similar feat of make-believe.

Maybe she was distracted.


Contact David Hiltbrand at 215-854-4552 or dhiltbrand@, or follow on Twitter @daveondemand_tv.