Documentarian Joe Berlinger stole many Netflix subscribers’ weekends with Conversations With a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes, an overview of the notorious serial killer’s career that premiered on the streaming service on Friday, January 25. To complement all that lady-butchering carnage, Berlinger also dropped the first trailer for his dramatization of Ted Bundy’s life, Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil, and Vile, a film with a title so convoluted that it’s destined to be known simply as “The Ted Bundy Movie.”
The film focuses on Bundy’s relationship with Liz Kloepfer, the woman he was dating at the time that his nocturnal nastiness came to light. The premise is intriguing, and Berlinger could not be more qualified to delve into the nitty-gritty of Bundy’s life. Unfortunately, Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil, and Vile has a whole lot to prove thanks to one majorly questionable decision.
Berlinger cast Zac Efron as Ted Bundy when he obviously should have cast Jason Lee.
There’s Nothing Wrong With Efron’s Muscles
Since the first trailer for Extremely Wicked, Efron (and Berlinger) become the target of criticism based on a handful of shots that feature Efron showcasing his now-obligatory Grecian marble muscles. Opponents of the film accuse Berlinger of sexualizing Bundy’s crimes by casting such an attractive actor to portray him.
Personally, these complaints are a little too niche progressive to merit much concern. Sure, Efron has muscles, and Bundy didn’t, and Efron is empirically more attractive than Bundy was, but Hollywood is crammed full of roles played by people far prettier than the real life subject on which their roles were based. Look at a picture of Frida Kahlo and then look at a picture of Selma Hayek. Ray Charles was played by Jamie Foxx. Even George C. Scott is better looking than General Patton.
Efron’s looks aren’t the issue; in fact, you could argue that Berlinger cast such a Ken doll to give viewers insight into the fact that Bundy’s crimes were sexualized. Women at the courtroom considered him something of a stud. Efron’s casting in the role just reflects the shifting ideals of attractiveness that have taken root in the forty-plus years since Bundy’s crimes took place.
The issue with Efron’s casting isn’t in his muscles. It’s in his delivery.
The Case for Jason Lee
Let’s skip past the fact that Jason Lee is probably a bit too old to play the role. Chronological age has never been an issue for Hollywood movies going for the right performer. Instead, let’s consider the performance.
Whenever he appears on screen, Efron’s delivery is the same. He’s enthusiastic, committed, and kind of hollow. You might think that translates well to playing a serial killer, but — as Berlinger’s Netflix documentary proves — Bundy wasn’t your average serial killer. Ted Bundy may have been slick, but he wasn’t eager to please; he was snarky and confident, convinced of his own intellectual superiority.
Ted Bundy was schmoozer and a smiler. He was less coiled snake than used car salesman. That’s not Zac Efron; Efron is less used car salesman and more boarding school kid with a nasty hobby.
… which brings us to Jason Lee, an actor who possesses, arguably, the same narrow range as Efron, with one major exception: the guy was born to play Ted Bundy. Not only is Lee a dead ringer for the lady killer, but he also delivers his lines with the same easygoing malice that Bundy showcased in interviews at the time of his arrest.
Just watch a minute or two of Bundy speaking to reporters:
Then, check out the pure, baseless confidence of Jason Lee explaining why Lois Lane could never have Superman’s baby in Mallrats:
To think of what could have been.