One of those Lifetime movies like momma (or grandma) used to watch, “Romeo Killer: The Chris Porco Story” taps into the perennial hook of the suave sociopath — the handsome boy next door who, it turns out, is apparently capable of taking an axe to his sleeping parents. Eric McCormack puts on a dour face to play the detective seeking to expose the title character, in a very by-the-numbers, fact-based movie, which employs a lot of direct-to-camera “interviews” with characters, either to create a sense of verisimilitude or, less charitably, save money by cutting down on scenes and locations.
Frankly, the most distinctive thing about “Chris Porco,” the movie, is that Chris Porco — the actual guy, currently in prison — sought and temporarily obtained an injunction to prevent Lifetime from airing it. Given the rich tradition of movies “based on a true story” that fudge some facts, the offscreen shenanigans are clearly more interesting than anything that happens in the movie courtroom.
The movie Porco (Matt Barr, of “Hatfields & McCoys”) is a good-looking college kid with an easy way when it comes to women, flashing a grin and telling them, “That’s my girl.” Yet he also has a penchant for running up debts and lying, which puts him at odds with his folks.
So when Chris’ dad is killed and his mother (Lolita Davidovich) horribly maimed in their house by a mysterious assailant, Det. Joe Sullivan (McCormack) — whose daughter grew up with Chris, and is still close to him — immediately turns his sights on the lad, seeking to punch holes in his pretty solid alibi. “The boy you think you know is not the real Chris Porco,” Joe insists.
As the investigation unfolds, Chris continues using his ample charm to try to silence witnesses against him or gain an advantage over the prosecution.
Directed by Norma Bailey from Edithe Swensen’s script, “Romeo Killer” echoes countless Lifetime movies, as well as the media preoccupation with past pretty-boy murderers, ranging from Ted Bundy to Robert Chambers. Throw in the Lizzie Borden-like weapon of choice, and in the most salacious terms, the movie pretty well sells itself. (Although one can almost hear promos that blare, “The movie a convicted killer didn’t want you to see!”)
As presented, it’s moderately suspenseful but also an awfully dry, unimaginative approach to the story, with McCormack’s personality and natural sense of humor completely lost in this straightforward cop role, and Davidovich burdened by Frankenstein makeup. Barr, at least, is convincing as the ladies man with a dark streak, however familiar that might be.
In the midst of Lifetime’s own demographic makeover, there is something almost reassuring about the channel continuing to offer the kind of movie principally associated with its past. And if “Romeo” isn’t exactly a lady killer, in terms of keeping enough of them glued to the couch for a few hours, it ought to get the grisly job done.
Romeo Killer: The Chris Porco Story
(Movie; Lifetime, Sat. March 23, 8 p.m.)
With: Eric McCormack, Matt Barr, Lolita Davidovich, Michael Hogan
Filmed in Vancouver by Michael Jaffe Films, Kahn Power Pictures, Front Street Pictures and Automatic Pictures. Executive producer, Ilene Kahn Power; co-executive producer, Norma Bailey; producer, Harvey Kahn; director, Bailey; writer, Edithe Swensen; camera, C. Kim Miles; production designer, Paul Joyal; editor, Gordon Rempel; music, Matthew Rogers; casting, Fern Champion, Jackie Lind. 120 MIN.