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'Lizzie Borden Took an Ax' Lifetime movie is panned by most TV critics

The Lifetime TV-movie "Lizzie Borden Took an Ax" premiered on Jan. 25, 2014, and it is expected to get good ratings for the network. But once again, it's another Lifetime movie that has been slammed by most TV critics in reviews that were published on or before the movie's premiere date.

Billy Campbell and Christina Ricci
Billy Campbell and Christina Ricci
Christina Ricci in "Lizzie Borden Took an Ax"

Christina Ricci portrays real-life accused murderer Lizzie Borden in "Lizzie Borden Took an Ax."

Here are the details about "Lizzie Borden Took an Ax," according to Lifetime:

The nursery rhyme “Lizzie Borden took an ax…and gave her mother 40 whacks...when she saw what she had done, she gave her father 41” has been folklore for generations. But, in fact, it was Lizzie Borden – one of the most legendary figures in American history – who first whetted the public’s voracious interest in scandalous crimes in the 1800s with her own gruesome story involving the brutal murder of her parents.

Starring Golden Globe and Emmy Award nominee Christina Ricci ("Monster)", Golden Globe nominee Billy Campbell ("The Killing") and Screen Actors Guild Award winner Clea DuVall ("Argo"), the Lifetime Original Movie "Lizzie Borden Took an Ax" premieres Jan. 25, 2014, at 8 p.m. EST/PST.

On a scorching, hot summer day in 1892 in Fall River, Mass., Lizzie Borden (Ricci) returns home to the house she shares with her father Andrew, stepmother Abby and sister Emma (DuVall). But, unlike any normal day, Lizzie encounters the bloody scene of her parents violently murdered. Police quickly question multiple suspects in town, but evidence keeps pointing back to the Bordens' youngest daughter Lizzie, the seemingly wholesome Sunday school teacher, as the prime suspect.

Lizzie’s lawyer, Andrew Jennings (Campbell), proclaims her innocence arguing that it is inconceivable a woman could commit the heinous crime of brutally murdering her family with an ax. Or is it? Lizzie is put on trial for the murders, both in the courtroom and in the press, sparking a widespread debate about her culpability. As the case rages on, the courtroom proceedings fuel an enormous amount of sensationalized stories and headlines in newspapers throughout the country, forever leaving Lizzie Borden’s name in infamy.

"Lizzie Borden Took an Ax" is produced by Sony Pictures Television for Lifetime. Judith Verno ("Masters of Sex," "Drew Peterson: Untouchable") serves as executive producer with Michael Mahoney ("The Memory Keeper’s Daughter") producing. Nick Gomez ("The Blacklist") directs from a script written by Stephen Kay ("The Mod Squad").

Here are excerpts of reviews of "Lizzie Borden Took an Ax":

The Hollywood Reporter

With 'Lizzie Borden Took an Ax,' Lifetime is finally having some fun. Instead of a serious and somber tone, the television movie's account of the infamous unsolved murders takes a lively approach (at least, as much as it can when portraying a double homicide). It's also clear that Christina Ricci ('Monster'), who stars as Lizzie, relishes every moment of her portrayal, turning up the volume on her crazy eyes without spilling over into camp. The production's choice of modern music also further ingrains the idea that this is a funkier retelling of the story, which has developed over the years from a tale of horror and media frenzy to becoming part of a schoolyard rhyme and pop culture ...

"'Lizzie Borden Took an Ax' makes its position on her guilt very clear, and that alone makes it a distinctive offering in the canon of material on the subject. The movie is not interested in delving deep into Lizzie's psyche, or creating a horror thriller, or even giving a full historical account about society, women, and the law. But the major and minor facts of the crime are all there, along with an inventive soundtrack that gives the sinister tale a strangely light tone. 'Lizzie Borden Took an Ax': Christina Ricci gave some whacks; and when it all was said and done, it was in fact quite creepy fun."

Los Angeles Times

"'The Legend of Lizzie Borden' starred Elizabeth Montgomery, who in 1975 was firmly entrenched in American hearts as the sweet-faced, nose-twitching Samantha Stephens from "Bewitched." To see her as a grimly corseted spinster sweltering under the heat of a New England summer and her family's penny-pinching morality was shocking enough. Scenes of Lizzie stripping to her skin before butchering her father and step-mother, though edited to network standards, sent critics and viewers into a rapturous tizzy. The film was nominated for multiple Emmys, including lead actress. More important, it proved how a complex and counterintuitive performance, accompanied by evocative historical detail, could lift an oft-told and histrionic tale to artistic heights.

"None of which can be said about the film 'Lizzie Borden Took an Ax,' which premieres on Lifetime Saturday night. Television is once again waxing golden and a headliner — Christina Ricci — plays lead, but this "Lizzie Borden" takes little advantage of either. With historical mood and attention to mundane detail lending dramatic credibility to pirates, vikings, ad executives and British aristocrats everywhere, director Nick Gomez and writers Stephen Kay and David Coggeshall rely instead on a head-banging soundtrack and Ricci's enormous eyes to add what they must have considered a 'cool' psychological twist."

New York Daily News

"Lifetime works from the premise that Lizzie did it, and Ricci reinforces that presumption by playing Lizzie as a repressed quiet psycho. Lifetime also suggests the murders did not shatter an otherwise idyllic household. Andrew Borden and his second wife are at best cold fishes. Lizzie’s one confidante, her sister Emma (Clea DuVall), is the right one. Emma has Lizzie’s back even when she’s not sure Lizzie deserves that kind of loyalty. The movie itself apparently isn’t sure the murders themselves are lurid enough. So it adds a few things that didn’t happen, plus some 21st-century music. And Lizzie strips before she picks up the ax. Apparently so she won’t get blood on her dress." (2 out 5 stars)


"Hard to believe it’s been almost 40 years since Elizabeth Montgomery took a juicy whack at the role of Lizzie Borden, and in casting Lifetime’s billboard-friendly update 'Lizzie Borden Took an Ax,' Christina Ricci initially looks like an inspired choice. What emerges, though, is a curiously lethargic movie — more courtroom drama than anything else — before a finishing kick that’s the only reason worth tuning in. Oddly constructed, Lifetime’s latest attempt to produce TV movies with more edge isn’t exactly razor-sharp, but strictly based on its camp factor, 'Lizzie' should get the job done ...

"All of this is not only conventionally done, but provides virtually no insight into its title character. That’s because the entire movie is essentially just an extended preamble to a sequence showing how the killings happened — or at least, might have happened. Until that point in the story, 'Lizzie Borden' feels like a slog, while incorporating unorthodox touches that prove wholly arbitrary, such as a contemporary soundtrack. Directed by Nick Gomez from a script by Stephen Kay and David Coggeshall, one suspects 'Lizzie Borden' is one of those projects — much like the recent ratings grabber 'Flowers in the Attic' — where the title, casting and marketing did most of the work, with the details viewed as something of an afterthought, and the assembled talent mostly wasting its time."

Washington Post

"Lifetime’s irresistibly whacky but largely disappointing Saturday-night movie treatment of the subject, “Lizzie Borden Took an Ax,” doesn’t do Borden’s case any favors. Christina Ricci, born to play borderline women with her beautiful bug-eyes, stars as the unhappy 32-year-old who is stuck living at home, like some permanently angry teenager. Aside from some weirdness with her strict father and unsympathetic stepmother, it’s difficult to understand Lizzie’s motive for (allegedly!) killing them, at least in this telling. Mostly they just cramped her style, so she acted on both impulse and strategy, murdering her stepmother first and then waiting for her father to return home from work so she could kill him too.

"The movie (written by Stephen Kay) is certainly not a procedural with any interest in building suspense, since there’s never any question that Lizzie’s the killer. We see her swing that ax and cover herself in blood spatter a dozen times or so, mostly because the film doesn’t seem to be able to settle on a structure or decide what tone it’s trying to convey. Ricci gives a merely serviceable performance here, almost as if she’s dividing her total paycheck by the number of sneers and whacks she has to give — and not giving one whack more than 41."

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