Lohan has the look, but not the style, in Lifetime biopic

The train wreck that has become Lindsay Lohan didn’t start out that way. She was handily the most gifted pop princess of her incoming class, with a throaty voice that conveyed maturity; she even picked good projects, like Mean Girls, and held her own opposite Meryl Streep in A Prairie Home Companion. After all her drug and legal problems, the decision to rehabilitate (her career, at least) by doing a biopic of Elizabeth Taylor seemed like a savvy one: Both actresses were dogged by paparazzi, substance abuse and personal tragedy. Surely Lohan would bring her own experience to bear. And she looked the part, clearly. I was excited.

And now, disappointed with Liz & Dick, the Lifetime movie (airing Sunday) that was to be her comeback.

Aside from the “look,” Lohan lacks most of Taylor’s essential qualities — most specifically, the volcanic passion percolating under a slightly icy exterior. Taylor was never earthy and warm, like Ava Gardner or Rita Hayworth, but unattainable; imagine her in that white slip from Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, and you can see the formula of sexuality and porcelain perfection that she was — a brunetted and more talented version of Marilyn Monroe.

Lohan has little of that in this TV film, which concentrates on her 20-year relationship with Richard Burton. Taylor had diction and vulnerability; Lohan seems snippy and hardened already. Those qualities come out occasionally, but not consistently, and she too often seems amateurish. It’s simply not her best performance, as much as you want it to be. And the meta-experience of watching Lohan recreate the binge-breakdown cycle of her icon, mirroring her own life, seems less like haunting authenticity than more tabloid exploitation of both of them.

Grant Bowler is more convincing as Burton, with both the craggy looks and the resonant baritone trill, and his heavy-lidded yearning for Liz feels real. Back in the day, no one ever doubted Liz and Dick loved each other — indeed, they were better as exes than as a couple. Bowler reminds us of that devotion.

The film itself dashes, TV-movie-ishly, from scene to scene with little room for development or transition. If the director, Lloyd Cramer, spent less time racing to cover ground and more tailoring Taylor from Lohan, it might be good. Instead, it feels like she’s back at square one.

One-and-a-half stars. Airs Nov. 25 on Lifetime.