Saturday, July 27, 2013

Romeo Killer: The Chris Porco Story (Front Street Pictures, Kahn Power Pictures, Romeo Kill Productions, 2013)

by Mark Gabrish Conlan • Copyright © 2013 by Mark Gabrish Conlan • All rights reserved

I ran a movie I recently recorded from Lifetime called Romeo Killer: The Chris Porco Story, a true-crime saga whose central character, Chris Porco, actually sued (unsuccessfully) to stop it from being shown when Lifetime originally planned to air it in March 2013. Ironically, Porco claimed that the screenwriter, Edithe Swensen, and director, Norma Bailey (a quite good director of suspense and Gothic melodrama who deserves a shot through the glass ceiling to make a feature film), had distorted the facts of the case to make him look guilty — while one reviewer said he actually lived in the town where the real Porco killing happened and that Chris Porco had been even more of a sociopath than the movie made him out to be. Anyway, in the case the original judge slapped the filmmakers and Lifetime with a temporary restraining order but then backed off, realized it was a classic case of the sort of prior-restraint censorship the First Amendment is supposed to forbid, and let Lifetime go ahead with the showing of Romeo Killer. Set in the town of Delmar (one word) in upstate New York, Romeo Killer deals with scapegrace college student Chris Porco (played by drop-dead gorgeous Matt Barr — he’s such a nice slab of beefcake no wonder Lifetime used him as a villain!) who’s away at college when his father, Peter Porco (Lochlyn Munro), is brutally killed with an ax. Only he wasn’t really away at college; he actually sneaked off campus, went home, used the master code for the house’s burglar alarm to enter, then took his ax to the burglar alarm to make it look like a random break-in, and hacked away at both his parents. Somehow his dad managed, despite being fatally wounded, to dress himself, brush his teeth, make it to the kitchen and die clutching a check he had written to take care of Chris’s accumulated parking tickets (accumulated in a canary-yellow Jeep that’s so distinctive it practically becomes a character in itself!). As for mom, Joan Porco (Lolita Davidovich), she survives the attack and is found by police just before she slips into a coma; they ask her if she knows the person who did this to her and she nods her head yes, which becomes a key piece of evidence against Chris, but when she finally recovers — albeit with deep gashes across her face that become scars and make her resemble the surviving victim in a bad horror film — she’s convinced that, no matter how strong the evidence against him, her son couldn’t possibly have done such a thing either to her or her husband/his father.

Romeo Killer is less interesting than it could have been because we’re never in much suspense as to whether Chris Porco did it — we’re obviously supposed to believe he’s guilty even before writer Swensen bothers to give us much of a case against him — and the main antagonism is between Chris and Detective Sullivan (Eric McCormick, top-billed and another surprisingly attractive guy for a Lifetime movie — especially since we’re supposed to believe he’s the good guy!), who’s assigned to investigate the case for the Delmar Police Department. This poses something of a conflict of interest for Sullivan because 1) he’s never liked Chris Porco — he was a friend of Chris’s parents but thought Chris himself was a scapegrace sociopath who was ripping off his folks (which he was; earlier he’d staged another fake “burglary” and stolen his dad’s laptop, which he then sold on eBay to a kid in San Diego; then he altered a check his dad wrote him for $2,000 so it said $30,000) and it was only a matter of time before he killed them for their money; and 2) much to Sullivan’s disgust, Chris is dating his daughter Melanie (Sarah Desjardins). This appears to be why the film is called Romeo Killer — the Romeo-and-Juliet aspects of the accused murderer dating the daughter of the cop investigating the crime — either that or Chris Porco’s incredibly easy time finding dates generally, since while he’s seeing Melanie he’s also hanging out with the 40-something veterinarian he works for and he’s also dating another age-peer, whom Melanie catches him kissing and abruptly breaks things off with him. Chris carefully crafted an alibi that he was sleeping in the basement of his frat house while he gave another man his bed — until his frat brother Brody McAllister (Reilly Dolman) blows it and tells the cops what he was really doing — and ultimately Chris is tried and convicted, he exhausts his appeals and at the end the only person who’s still standing by him is his mother, who still can’t believe he tried to kill her.

Romeo Killer is one of those frustrating Lifetime movies that could have been considerably better than it is; director Bailey shows talents way beyond the requirements of Swensen’s script — including some quite remarkable bits of visual atmospherics and a flashback to the murder that’s worthy of a horror film and is considerably more frightening than a lot of today’s gore-fests. She’s also helped by the personable cast, including a drop-dead gorgeous leading man as her villain and a quite good-looking guy as her police detective hero — but this is one of those movies in which the personal traumas the characters must have been going through as that hot-looking mask of Chris Porco dropped off and revealed the monster beneath are totally ignored and we’re not vouchsafed a word of explanation why his mom stays loyal to him even though as far as we can tell she was one of his victims. Also there are some pretty big holes in the case against him as presented here — including the biggest: he’s supposed to have committed this heavy-duty Gothic murder that splattered blood all over everything, yet not one hint of blood was found either on him or in his car. The prosecutor at the trial explains that as an assistant in veterinary surgeries, Chris would have been able to clean up and make sure no trace of blood was found either on his person, his clothing or his car — but even assuming he committed the crime wearing a hospital gown which he then disposed of, given Luminol (which Edithe Swensen seems never to have heard of) and all the other ways police now have of tracing minute amounts of blood, it’s hard to believe that Chris Porco could have chopped his parents to death or near-death with an ax and not left some tell-tale sign of blood on himself or his car. I’d have been tempted to acquit him on that point alone!