You could sort of tell Lifetime was not really taking the murder of JonBenét Ramsey very seriously when the press release for its new TV movie referred to “the infamous murder of the pint-sized beauty queen.” “Pint-sized”? That’s an awfully jovial way to describe a 6-year-old girl who was brutally killed in 1996. Turns out, that’s actually one of Lifetime’s more subtle touches in this brutally crude dramatization of the crime and its aftermath.
The murder has received new attention during this, the 20th anniversary of the child’s death, most of it lurid and/or exploitative. The script by Brian L. Ross makes a singularly cynical decision in having the movie narrated by the corpse of JonBenét. As played by Payton Lepinski, dead-JonBenét guides us through the film with voiceovers, during the introduction of various characters, laced with childlike observations: “That’s my dad’s best friend Fleet. He gave the best hugs.” Ick. “That’s Steve Thomas. He’s a detective,” she says of a cop played by Eion Bailey (Covert Affairs, Stalker). She adds, “Maybe he’s going to solve this puzzle.” Please note: They have this poor child referring to her own murder as a puzzle.
The movie proceeds like the most banal episode of Law & Order: crime scene investigation, interrogation of family and friends, various branches of law enforcement weighing in with theories. JonBenét’s little brother, Burke, comes off looking bad, in keeping with the current trend in Ramsey murder theories. A cop says to the boy, “Is there anything you’d like to ask me?” Burke responds, “Is that a Rolex?” pointing to the cop’s watch. Ooh, the kid is awfully cold — in TV-drama terms, he’s being positioned as potentially guilty.
The dialogue is stilted and melodramatic throughout. Fleet says of the Bolder, Colo., district attorney, “He’s been accused in a national magazine of being incompetent!” A cop says, “I need this [case] closed fast. This city’s gonna come apart if there’s a maniac running around!” Someone else implores, “Who is gonna start standing up for the truth around here?”
At the end, there’s a shot of JonBenét’s gravestone, and she speaks to us from beyond it. “I’ve seen a lot of things from here in 20 years … and I’ve seen you too — all of you — looking at me.” She’s talking to us, an implicit scolding of the viewer as voyeur. She continues: “In the story of my life, the bad guys don’t get caught. The nice people don’t win. I still don’t know who the bad guy in my story is. Maybe I never will … Maybe I can let go. Can you?”
That’s rich: A cheeseball TV movie asking its viewers to “let go” of their JonBenét obsession, even as Who Killed JonBenét? exploits the child one more time.
Who Killed JonBenét? airs Saturday at 8 p.m. on Lifetime.