Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile ★★½

Earlier this year, Joe Berlinger released his four-episode Netflix doc on Ted Bundy, which depicted far more cumulative breadth than this meager feature-length version. It'd be easy to suggest that's because of the transition from TV to film. Whereas, the fact he barely explores Bundy's twisted sadism, in lieu of girlfriend Liz's Kloepfer's unknowing nature, is more galling than I could've expected. "You have to release me." How could a biography on the notorious serial killer, who slaughtered dozens of women in 1970-74, be this sanitized?

If it wasn't for Zac Efron's engagingly slick performance—going beyond physical mimicry, this would've fell to the pits. He revels in Bundy's abrasive smoothness and judicious charms, with a madcap confidence when defending his murder trial. Beyond these abilities as a law student, Liz (played with compelling poise by Lily Collins) is both wooed and ambivalent by him, to sole supporter Carole Anne Boone (Kay Scodelario) being smitten in the courtroom. Along with shrewd prosecutor, Larry Simpson (Jim Parsons), and Judge Edward D. Cowart (John Malkovich), they keep the intense sparring in formation.

Still, a missed opportunity is made during the '76 Utah segment, where Ted used Papillon as inspiration to break out of prison. The second-story jump is enamoring; followed by the sprained leg straddle, although the six-day survivalism he experienced at Aspen Mountain is totally elided. From then on, he becomes an infamous media outlet for the first publicly televised legal case (depicted in archival footage by supportive women, and hard-as-nails homicide detectives), to obtain a verdict.

A part of me wants to laud Berlinger for not glorifying his subject matter. (Despite the occasional rock-heavy needle-drop kicking in, followed by Efron's wry smile.) However, he utilizes the entire first-half on Ted and Liz's humble relationship, which is a tedious approach to go about it. Besides some cleverly off-guard tidbits—Liz searching for her daughter, as Ted makes breakfast for (while holding a large kitchen knife!), and a growling dog at the pound, that is all its limited briefness has to offer.

With that said, since Ted's murderous, necrophilic actions are only materialized by a blink-and-you'll-miss-it crowbar, then this could've depicted what drew him to Liz's persona. (Considering he killed so many young women, how was she able to survive, in such close proximity to him?) None of that is ever ruminated upon, with the laurels being rested on Efron's compulsively acute turn, during post-breakout and on trial. At least put in the effort to address the fervid elements of a fiendish mind.