Netflixable? “Aileen Wuornos: American Boogeywoman” is trash, and not the good kind

Labeling “Aileen Wuornos: American Boogeywoman” as “trash” gives this fictionalized, sensationalized and generally incompetent take on America’s most infamous female serial killer credit it doesn’t deserve. “Trash” suggests there might be something “fun” to it.

This pseudo-serious “reclaiming” of Wuornos from the Oscar-winning portrait that “Monster” became, from her ongoing tabloid and website infamy, is more garbage than trash.

Ashley Atwood, with the aid of makeup and prosthetics, plays Wuornos in a deranged night-before-her-execution film interview with a Brit (Hamish Sturgeon) probably meant to be documentarian Nick Broomfield. And in the film’s most accurate touch, Peyton List, far shorter than Oscar-winner Charlize Theron, plays the young Aileen on her first trip to Florida, when she seduced and was briefly married to a Deland “yacht club commodore” three times her age in 1976.

Writer-director Daniel Farrands, who plies the trashy side of the cinema tracks (“The Haunting of Sharon Tate,” “The Murder of Nicole Brown Simpson”), filmed in and around Marina del Rey, which can pass for Daytona Beach. Sort of. But that’s as much effort as he made in the name of “accuracy.”

He puts Wuornos in the biker bar “where she enjoyed her last beer” years before the infamous Last Resort opened. He puts the smitten old sailor Lewis Gratz Fell (Bell) on a sailing yacht design that’s about 30 years off. He has Aileen telling tales, lying about murders that predate her 1989-1990 spree, which led to her conviction and execution in 2003.

And he lets the pre-execution Wuornos speak with a thick Southern drawl, in the interview and in voice-overs where she talks about this strange interlude in her life — as a hot-tempered prostitute who befriends a young woman (Lydia Hearst) on a “private beach” (no such thing in Florida) and then seduces and marries her rich father.

Wuornos grew up in Michigan. She had no drawl.

The woman’s awful childhood is hinted at. But what the film dwells on is her sordid way of making enough money to live on and a hair-trigger temper, evident in the film a dozen years before her most violent side showed itself.

The older Wuornos is smirking, self-satisfied, eating up her notoriety. The younger one sticks up for herself to such a degree that everything triggers her — not just abusive “johns,” sexual assault-minded barflies, but a dress store clerk who rubs her the wrong, snobby way.

Jennifer Tell (Hearst) sees her as “a hero to all the girls” for cold-cocking this jerk or that would-be abuser. Aileen first starts to see herself that way, the film says, in 1976.

List is “out there” and credibly violent in the role. But there’s nothing to the performance but that tough, two-fisted surface. The older Aileen may protest of her life of abuse, but the younger one gives little hint of the tragedy of her childhood, the damage or the miles.

As someone who chased the production of “Monster” all over the real locations future “Wonder Woman” director Patty Jenkins filmed on, who watched filming in the “real” Last Resort, who didn’t recognize Theron on set the first two or three times I saw her in character, and who interviewed Theron, co-stars Christina Ricci and Bruce Dern, I think there’s validity in the intent of “American Boogeywoman.”

“Monster” changed names and fictionalized a lot, too. “Reclaiming” Wuornos, stripping her of notoriety and all the things attached to her “legend” is a worthwhile goal. Even sending up her image — which seems to have been the intent here — would have been fair.

And List’s take, superficial as it is, might have amounted to a good jumping-off-point for a portrayal of the murderer.

But this hack filmmaker wasn’t the guy to find anything lofty or seedy, honorable, amusing or even interesting in this grim tale. This clumsy, heartless cut-rate production never rises from garbage to the level of trash.

Rating: R, violence, drug abuse, sex, partial nudity, profanity

Cast: Peyton List, Tobin Bell, Lydia Hearst, Hamish Sturgeon and Ashley Atwood

Credits: Scripted and directed by Daniel Farrands. A Voltage Films/Netflix release.

Running time: 1:25

About Roger Moore

Movie Critic, formerly with McClatchy-Tribune News Service, Orlando Sentinel, published in Spin Magazine, The World and now published here, Orlando Magazine, Autoweek Magazine
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