- Rated R
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All photos © Vitagraph Films
Reviewed by Bob Westal
t says something that more than 27 years after the murder of John Lennon, the idea of making a movie about Lennon’s killer still feels wrong, or at least unnecessary. Which is not to say that first-time writer-director J.P. Schaefer definitely should not have attempted to make a film from the point of view of Mark David Chapman; it is saying that the burden was on him to provide some justification for ripping the scab off of this 20th century cultural tragedy. Though beautifully shot and technically highly accomplished, “Chapter 27” fails creatively on almost every level, and it certainly isn’t the transcendent offering that might offset the emotional upheaval the film will cause among Lennon’s survivors, or the unpleasant fact that it’s providing his killer with the public attention he may still crave.
Named for the last chapter of a book about John Lennon’s life, and the fact that J.P. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye ends with Chapter 26, “Chapter 27” is pretty much what you’d expect, only less bearable. It’s a fictionalized first-person account of Chapman’s final, tragic visit to Manhattan and the hours he spent hanging in front of the Dakota apartments and babbling with doormen and more normal Beatles fans about the Beatles; his identification with Holden Caulfield, the hero of Salinger’s novel; and, his adopted home of Hawaii.
Heavy on largely pointless narration featuring Leto’s strangely irritating mock-Georgia accent, the homages to “Taxi Driver” run hot and heavy, right down to scenes of Chapman practicing his gun poses in front of a mirror. Just in case we’re missing that Schaefer is, I’m sure, a Martin Scorsese fan and Leto a Robert De Niro admirer, the 62 pounds Leto gained for the role are also on ample, “Raging Bull”-style display in a number of shirtless scenes, so we all know it’s not just padding — though, even with the weight gain, Leto still looks far too healthy for a delusional obsessive psychotic.
But gratuitous homages and actory self-abuse by weight gain are only skin deep, and the problems go far deeper. “Chapter 27” attempts to bring us into Chapman’s mind, and Jared Leto’s voice and image are with us through almost every shot in the movie. This is one movie that really does stand or fall with a single performance and Leto’s is almost entirely a one-note matter, and that note is “creepy.” This deficiency is deadly to the film, and to viewers’ sanity, because Chapman is, in fact, not quite the textbook outcast he appears to be.
As we learn through a phone conservation, he remains married to an apparently still adoring and amazingly loyal wife. In fact, on the scales of needy, unpleasant ultradweebs, he’s a chick magnet. Lindsay Lohan, playing an extraordinarily attractive, seemingly normal Beatles fanatic, is both fearful and attracted to this loner – though we haven’t the slightest clue why she would do anything but run for her life from this obvious psycho. By the time she finally does figure out that Leto’s character is not exactly boyfriend material, we are faced with the film’s most unpleasant scene – an encounter between the two young people and Lennon’s nanny and five-year-old son. (Just to add to the overall weirdness factor, Lindsay Lohan is friends with Sean Lennon; naturally, Lennon’s youngest son is reportedly unhappy about her presence in the film.)
With the exception of a young doorman who refuses to even shake Leto’s hand, everyone in “Chapter 27” seems to think of Chapman as some kind of likable eccentric. Even a paparazzo played by Judah Friedlander (“30 Rock”), who adds some desperately needed humor and earthiness to the film, seems oddly friendly to Chapman, despite nearly having a fistfight with him on his first meeting. In fact, the only encounter with any genuine resonance is Chapman’s brief chat with Lennon. There’s an odd moment of something like actual communication between Leto’s Chapman and Lennon, played perfectly in a fleeting performance by the very unfortunately named Mark Lindsay Chapman.
I’ve been bashing Jared Leto pretty hard, but the fact remains his ruinous performance happened under J.P. Schaefer’s watch, and J.P. Schaeffer’s screenplay. In order for “Chapter 27” to even come close to working, we have to not only see the psychosis, the delusion, and the celebrity-obsession gone wildly out of control of Chapman, but also a certain amount of charisma, or sweetness – anything to explain why the other characters tolerate the murderer-to-be and perhaps draw out some conflicted emotions from the audience.
“Chapter 27” turns out to be a movie the world would have been better off without, but I’m not quite willing to throw J.P. Schaefer in the special housing unit of Movie Attica without the possibility of parole. There’s real skill here in the pacing and level of tension towards the end, and a beautiful score by Anthony Marinelli helps to bring a small amount of redemption to this roll in the muck. Just as the movie implies that John Lennon’s killer might have gone on a different, and far more redemptive path, Schaefer has every opportunity to correct his disastrous course with future projects that are actually worth pursuing.
Single-Disc DVD Review:
For as little as there is to the movie itself, it would be foolish to expect anything more than the short behind-the-scenes featurette that appears on the DVD release. Still, between Jared Leto's comments about the troubles he had with his weight gain, and director J.P Schaefer's discussion about the relevancy of the film even being made, you'd like to think a commentary would have been well worth including.