Movie Review: Young lust at its most murderous — the Tylar Witt case, “Romeo and Juliet Killers”

With teen characters named “God,” “Boston,” “Graham Cracker” and “Squishy” acting irrationally, hedonistically and out-of-control, you can’t help but feel “What nutty screenwriter cooked up this?”

But “Romeo and Juliet Killers” is based on a true story. Populate it with actors — who are by definition more gorgeous than we mere mortals — and you barely have to play up the sordid stuff to get a lurid, over-the-top thriller about an infamous crime “ripped from today’s headlines,” back when headlines were a thing.

Leigha Sinnott plays Tylar Witt, a suburban California teen totally unrestrained by her exasperated single mom (Kelly Sullivan). Screaming obscenities, lashing out and storming-out in whatever tartwear strikes her mercurial mood, Tylar is a master manipulator.

Mom JoAnne can’t even restrain her long enough to make her stay to finish their latest knock-down, drag-out. The cruel kid will scream allegations of abuse loud enough for the neighbors and cops to hear.

As neighbor Val (Alicia Ziegler) is an insurance fraud investigator married to a cop (Darren Dupree Washington), that could be a problem. But Val sees right through this hellion. Her “It’s tough love time” lectures fall on JoAnne’s deaf ears.

Tylar’s reign of errors includes imbibing whatever she can get her hands on and coming on to whoever strikes her fancy. This new guy in her circle, “Boston (Zachary Roozen)?” He’s a little older, edgy and handsome enough to spark her interest.

“Pretty sure he’s gay,” and “as a daffodil,” no less. But he’s a lot more open-minded about that sort of thing than “categorizations” suggest. Besides, with the right gifts from his “bag of goodies,” everybody’s sexual inhibitions vanish.

“Romeo and Juliet Killers” is a somewhat drawn-out account of their torrid affair, his way of charming himself into JoAnne’s life, Val’s growing alarm and the ever-more-fraught confrontations that point the characters towards the label the press gave them that became the movie’s title.

Actress-turned-director Lindsay Hartley tells the story in one broad, obvious stroke after another. This reinforces the feeling that everybody saw this coming save for the mother whose repeated “I’m not STUPID” confrontations suggest that yes, maybe she was.

The film’s third act plays like a long epilogue, as no one involved acts in a rational way once they’ve committed a heinous crime, or sense someone they know has.

There has already been a documentary about the Tylar Witt case and it’s almost certainly been covered by any number of podcasts. But if “true crime” is your thing and you’d like to see all the nudity and sex and insincere “I love yous” that court transcripts teased, have at it.

It ain’t Shakespeare. But “Romeo and Juliet Lovers” gets a dirty “true crime” job done, emphasizing the dirt every laborious step of the way.

Rating: TV-MA, graphic violence, drug abuse, sex, nudity, profanity

Cast: Leigha Sinnott, Zachary Roozen, Kelly Sullivan, Alicia Ziegler and Darren Dupree Washington.

Credits: Directed by Lindsay Hartley, scripted by Peter Hunziker and Cynthia Riddle. A Tubi release.

Running time: 1:46

About Roger Moore

Movie Critic, formerly with McClatchy-Tribune News Service, Orlando Sentinel, published in Spin Magazine, The World and now published here, Orlando Magazine, Autoweek Magazine
This entry was posted in Reviews, previews, profiles and movie news. Bookmark the permalink.