Pop culture is a strange thing. Growing up, I always thought of it as the latest gossip in Hollywood and who is sleeping with whom. As I grew up watching plenty of VH1, I soon was able to understand references about if gloves don’t fit or drinking the kool-aid. My own dark interests led me to several subjects that were inspirations for some of my favorite movies. To this day, people still tell me I’m weird or make them uncomfortable due to my taste in cinema and television.
The irony in that is America’s obsession with serial killers. Every time there’s a public shooting, I see that killer’s face in the celebrity section of IMDB or there’s a new must-see documentary series about a murderer. While the interest is there, it’s also fun to point out how some become sex icons. The Ted Bundy Tapes was released not too long ago. While I personally didn’t watch it, I saw posts all over social media and his image being romanticized. It’s only natural that we now have a scripted version of Ted Bundy, led by one of Hollywood’s hottest young stars, Zac Efron. The announcement drew plenty of attention as Efron is primarily known as a Disney darling and a sex symbol in his bro-comedies. EXTREMELY WICKED, SHOCKINGLY EVIL AND VILE is Efron’s high profile chance to prove himself as something more.
Director Joe Berlinger focuses his story on Bundy getting arrested in connection to several murders. His phone calls and interactions with girlfriend, Liz Kloepfer (Lily Collins, Okja, Mirror Mirror) are told through flashbacks, flash-forwards, and a present trial. Initially, the narrative is told from Liz’s perspective but switches to Ted once he gets in trouble. He’s charismatic, handsome, and ultimately convincing so it’s easy to see how he can charm anyone, especially his victims. Those looking for a dark true crime drama will be sadly disappointed. There might be a top-notch cast involved here, but the script plays like a Saturday night Lifetime movie where we learn nothing new. It’s fun for two hours, but you forget about it once breakfast hits on Sunday.
It’s not a terrible movie by any means, as Efron gives a surprisingly effective performance without trying too hard. The role feels natural for him and I hope we can get more chances to explore his talent with substantial scripts. Berlinger is highly respected for his controversial documentaries on heavy subject matter told in a brutally honest way. Unfortunately, that doesn’t translate to scripted narrative. The tone seems to want viewers to feel sorry for Liz as she’s caught up with the wrong guy at no fault of hers, but Collins isn’t given anything to work with. She spends most of the film looking down, feeling sorry for herself.
There are missed opportunities with both characters, but the movie relies on popular hits at the time to create some kind of authenticity rather than give us some kind of psychological insight. Maybe we could have seen the media effect of serial killers, but it’s just a play by play. I personally don’t know much about Bundy and didn’t learn anything new with EXTREMELY WICKED, SHOCKINGLY EVIL AND VILE. Even that title is misleading because there’s nothing really wicked, shocking, or vile here as the tone constantly shifts and made me yearn to just put on a documentary instead. EXTREMELY WICKED, SHOCKINGLY EVIL AND VILE will be available to stream on Netflix May 3, 2019.