SHOCKINGLY EVIL AND VILE
(US - 2019)
Directed by Joe Berlinger. Written by Michael Werwie. Cast: Zac Efron, Lily Collins, Kaya Scodelario, John Malkovich, Jim Parsons, Jeffrey Donovan, Angela Sarafyan, Dylan Baker, Brian Geraghty, Terry Kinney, Haley Joel Osment, James Hetfield, Grace Victoria Cox, Morgan Pyle, Ken Strunk, Justin McCombs, Ryan Wesley Gilreath, Tess Talbot, Forba Shepherd (R, 110 mins)
Infamous serial killer Ted Bundy has been the subject of numerous true crime books, nearly a dozen movies, and even more TV documentaries. The 1986 NBC TV-movie THE DELIBERATE STRANGER capped off of a banner year for Mark Harmon, who received critical acclaim and a Golden Globe nomination for his performance as Bundy on top of being named that year's Sexiest Man Alive by People. Until then, the former college football star was known as a competent TV actor who was gaining some momentum on ST. ELSEWHERE as lothario Dr. Bobby Caldwell, but playing Ted Bundy unquestionably opened some doors for him and turned him into a big-screen headliner for a couple of years before returning to journeyman duty on TV, eventually finding his career role on the still-running CBS series NCIS. With his charm and good looks, Harmon was perfect casting for a truly reprehensible serial killer who didn't fit the stereotype, one of the main reasons Bundy remains such a popular topic today. The same degree of perfect casting applies to Zac Efron, who made his name as a teen superstar with Disney's incredibly popular HIGH SCHOOL MUSICAL franchise. As the years have gone on, Efron has found steady work in comedies both good (NEIGHBORS) and godawful (DIRTY GRANDPA), and his attempts to branch out and be taken seriously have yielded results both interesting (ME AND ORSON WELLES) and woefully misbegotten (THE PAPERBOY). With an absurd panini beard and about ten mintues of screen time, Efron managed to steal this year's earlier THE BEACH BUM from both Matthew McConaughey and Snoop Dogg, and in playing Ted Bundy in the Netflix original film EXTREMELY WICKED, SHOCKINGLY EVIL AND VILE (a verbatim description of Bundy used by the judge who sentenced him to die in the Florida electric chair), Efron uses his persona to chilling effectiveness in a performance that matches Harmon's, but through no fault of his, the film only works in fits and starts.
hybristophilia, with Bundy arguably the most prominent example) might've been a more interesting subject for Berlinger to explore, especially when it comes to the pathetic Carole Ann Boone (Kaya Scodelario), a former co-worker of Bundy's in Seattle who follows him to Utah and eventually to Florida, all in the hopes of getting him to fall in love with her.
"Lucky Man," and escaping from the Aspen courthouse from a second-story window to The Box Tops' "The Letter." EXTREMELY WICKED is a serial killer thriller that wants to be different, realizes there's not enough there for what it wants to do, then tries to have it both ways, which only results in an uneven structure and a lack of focus. In other words, it's flawed but not without interest, thanks mostly to a revelatory performance by Efron and some solid supporting work from the cast, particularly Scodelario, who's good enough here that you wish the story was being told from her POV.