Even as a kid, I knew who Ted Bundy was. No, I didn’t know details or what exactly he’d done, but I knew the name Ted Bundy, and I knew it belonged to a very bad man.
Watching “Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile” on Netflix, it takes me about 48 minutes to recognize he might be a bad man. I mean, in real life, I know he’s a serial killer, but the film portrays him in such a way that almost makes you wonder if you’ve been wrong your entire life.
Zac Efron plays Ted Bundy, the handsome, charismatic killer who murdered more than 30 women in the 1970s. We never actually see Bundy attack anyone or kill anyone. Instead, the film focuses on Bundy’s relationship with a single mother, Liz (Lily Collins), They meet in 1969 and fall in love.
A few years later, Liz’s own personal hell begins when Ted is arrested, charged and found guilty in an attempted kidnapping case. His arrest comes after a composite sketch is circulated and looks suspiciously like Ted. The nail in the coffin came from the victim’s identification of Ted in court. Still, he claims his innocence and convinces Liz to stand by him.
The “Stand By Your Man” routine becomes a bit harder, though, when Ted is extradited to Colorado in a murder case. Liz still refuses to believe he’s guilty, although she does become a raging alcoholic at this point. During a recess in the Colorado trial, Ted escapes and manages to make it to Florida. (Spoiler alert: More women are abducted, murdered and sexually assaulted after he arrives.)
Ted is arrested (again) and put on trial for the brutal slayings of two sorority co-eds and the attempted murders of three others. A good chunk of the movie is focused on this trial, which ultimately proved to be Ted’s downfall.
Efron is a former Disney Channel star who first caught people’s eye as the male lead in “High School Musical,” which I’m thankful to say I never watched. He had turns in other fluffy movies like “Hairspray” and “17 Again,” but in more recent years, he’s worked to shed that boyish charm by appearing in films like “Neighbors,” which gave us the opportunity to see him take part in a dildo fight. Oh, how far he’s come.
I say that facetiously, but I also mean it. I never watched HSM thankfully, but I’ve seen Efron in other films, such as 2007’s “Hairspray,” which required singing but didn’t exactly test his acting chops. Efron has grown as an actor. Ted Bundy isn’t an easy character to play, as there needs to be a certain level of menace that’s undetectable unless you know it’s there. Efron had to be charming, cavalier and still portray the fact he could break loose at any time. It’s not a simple role, and while I won’t say Efron should be nominated for any Oscars, I was surprised by how well he did.
I find this film to be a little bit fascinating. As I said, I know what kind of man the real Ted Bundy was, Even as a kid, I knew he was a handsome man — although I’ve seen him, and he really wasn’t that great — who was the boy next door. He had a killer smile, fluffy hair and a charming demeanor that could disarm even the most negative Nancy.
“Extremely Wicked” plays into that. Efron’s Ted Bundy doesn’t feel like a threat. Throughout the movie, he’s proclaiming his innocence, and there are moments that even we as the viewer wonder if he’s right. I don’t know if that’s a sign of excellent acting/filmmaking or a film that liked its subject a bit too much.
Collins also showed a level of skill I didn’t know she possessed. I think I’ve only see her in a couple of things to this point, and you’d judge me for two of them, but she’s never really knocked me off my feet. As in the case of Efron, “Extremely Wicked” showcases a grownup, more mature side of Collins. She didn’t blow me away here either, but she did show she’s got potential.
”Extremely Wicked” also features some fun moments of “Hey, I know that guy!” Those moments include:
• Jim Parsons (“Big Bang Theory”);
• Haley Joel Osment (“The Sixth Sense”);
• James Hetfield (Metallica);
• and John Malkovich (I’m not insulting your intelligence by putting anything here).
There are few more faces you’re likely to think look familiar like Jeffrey Donovan, Dylan Baker and Terry Kinney, even if their names don’t ring a bell.
Overall, I enjoyed “Extremely Wicked.” It’s perhaps a little heavy-handed at times, but it’s also a fairly accurate representation of a lot of things that happened during Ted Bundy’s reign of terror. The credits even show some real-life clips of scenes we saw in the movie. Even though Ted Bundy was accused of horrific things, women loved him. His looks and charm convinced them he was innocent, and that is shown brilliantly throughout this film. It’s scary that women would be so easily swayed, but it’s what happened.
Bottom line: If you’re in the mood for a Court TV replay that will entertain you while making you feel a little dirty for doubting his guilt, “Extremely Wicked” is a winner.