Last night’s Lifetime movie Romeo Killer: The Chris Porco Story started the way a lot of Lifetime movies start, with the message “based on a true story” flashing across the screen. The network has been known to use that phrase loosely, and what results is a usually outrageous, guilty-pleasure TV. What Lifetime isn’t known for is admitting the fictionalization of true stories, beyond using the phrase “inspired by” in place of “based on.” But that’s exactly what Lifetime did at the end of this week’s movie. An onscreen message informed viewers that some names had been changed and parts of the story were “fictionalized.” At which point I did twenty double takes in a row before uttering a Porky Pig-style “Wh-wh-wh-wh-whaaat?” I must have been on the wrong channel, right?
I soon understood why this message was likely inserted. Just a few days ago a judge banned Lifetime from airing the film upon the request of convicted murderer Chris Porco. After an appeal, the ban was lifted, and the movie aired as planned. But I’m guessing Lifetime decided to add a disclaimer to avoid further legal issues.
What I find ironic about the whole situation (and Lifetime is a very ironic network) is that this was arguably one of the most factual Lifetime movies ever. It was certainly the most factual one I’ve ever seen. The hour-long special that aired after the movie, titled Beyond the Headlines: The Real Romeo Killer (similar to the one aired about Carlina White), tells the “real” story almost exactly as Lifetime lays it out for us in the movie. Unfortunately, this doesn’t really work in Lifetime‘s favor. While it’s one of the few movies Lifetime has admitted to fictionalizing, it could probably have used a little more embellishment to make it watchable.
First, a little background. The movie is based on the true case of Christopher Porco, a college student who was convicted of murdering his father and disfiguring his mother with an ax. Porco maintains his innocence, as does his mother, who denies the claim that she acknowledged her son as the culprit at the scene of the crime.
Based on what I learned of the case from the special, the aspect of the story Lifetime most sensationalized was the idea of Chris being a “Romeo killer.” The movie cast heartthrob Matt Barr in the title role and painted his character as a ladies’ man with multiple girlfriends. The real Chris Porco didn’t strike me as a dreamboat, and there was no mention of any womanizing ways. So I don’t really understand why that was the angle Lifetime took with the movie. If they were dying to tell a scandalous story of a murderous hunk, they could have written an original film or been inspired by another case which better suited that angle.
I felt more suspense and intrigue watching the documentary special than I did watching the movie. It seems that this film fell victim to that Lifetime limbo we’ve witnessed before. It wasn’t outrageous enough to to be a guilty pleasure, but it wasn’t gripping enough to be a legitimately good movie. It’s really cute that Lifetime is trying to make good movies, it really is, but that’s not what I tune in to their network for. I want men stalking blind women, psychotic surrogates and unrealistic Christmas stories. I’ve grown to love the network for embracing this style of storytelling with a sense of humor. When they make an effort to be legitimate, they usually fall flat (Steel Magnolias excluded, although that wasn’t exactly necessary).
I’d like to give you commentary about the movie’s cheesiest moments like I usually do, but the movie didn’t provide much to talk about. It was that bland. I think Entertainment Weekly expressed the problem really well in their blurb about the film: “Ironically, it’s too cut-and-dried: You’ll wish the movie were as salacious as it would have been if this were ’90s Lifetime.” That really sums it up. Chris Porco is accused of murder, a detective (Eric McCormack) sorts out the evidence, a trial happens, and Porco is convicted.
There was thankfully one moment that entertained me. Porco’s lawyer tells the press that the prosecution’s arguments treat the case like a “made-for-TV movie.” It’s the type of self-referential joke that would have fit wonderfully in typical Lifetime fare. But because the movie doesn’t come across as over-the-top or exaggerated, that joke just draws attention to what a missed opportunity the project turned out to be.