"One star playing another makes for a fascinating performance, if not a great one," writes PEOPLE's TV critic

Credit: Lifetime

Completely miscast as Elizabeth Taylor in Liz & Dick, Lindsay Lohan makes a reckless but brave dive into a pool that anyone can see is empty. And yet she survives.

The Liz showcased in this unrevealing bio is Taylor in the years of her stormy, world-publicized life with Richard Burton (Grant Bowler). By this point in her career, nearing 40, the legendary beauty was giving way to the gauzy celebrity who sailed through decades on a golden barge rowed by paparazzi.

Lohan, 26, suggests this Taylor only in a few carefully lit close-ups: She’s gorgeous, full-faced, worn. As the still-later Taylor, the perfume merchandiser with the spiked plumes of hair, she looks more like Joan Collins stapled in half. She captures none of Taylor’s generously displayed voluptuousness, none of the sloppy good humor that endeared her to the public – not even that glass-scratching voice.

But Lohan, despite all her career troubles, is still a star. And one star playing another makes for a fascinating performance, if not a great or even good one. She has thrown herself into an impossible project, in a grand gamble to reestablish herself, and she attacks the part with a relentless, huffing-and-puffing determination that throws any acting technique under the bus and yet still rivets attention.

It’s an approach, really, not much different from Taylor’s own performances.

Bowler is a flawless Burton, but Lohan’s single-minded fierceness obliterates him. Jack Black could have played Dick, and I wouldn’t have noticed.

Liz & Dick airs Nov. 25 (9 p.m. ET) on Lifetime.