CATEGORIES Drama, Independent, Sundance, Theatrical Reviews, Cinematical Indie, Reviews, Sundance Film Festival, Cinematical
I hate to borrow material from another film critic, but a colleague of mine offered the following words after we finished watching Chapter 27: "It's like a feature-length version of De Niro's 'You talkin' to me' speech from Taxi Driver -- only without Scorsese, Schrader or De Niro." I repeat that sentence because it perfectly encapsulates my own opinion on the deadly dull and seriously dreary Chapter 27, a movie that promises to offer some insight into why Mark David Chapman, on one chilly night in 1980, shot the beloved John Lennon to death. But after 90-some minutes of J.P. Schaefer's writing/directing debut, I was no closer to understanding Chapman's motivations than I was 90 minutes earlier. I know it has something to do with J.D. Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye, but any other specifics are lost beneath waves of babble, tedium and pretense.
Lead actor Jared Leto earned himself a producer's credit on Chapter 27, and it's blatantly obvious from the first few frames of the flick that the young actor really, ahem, beefed up for the role. And Leto wants you to know it, which is why we see Chapman parading around in his tighty-whities for two or three scenes. Jared might as well look directly into the camera lens and scream "Look how much weight I gained for this role!" To make matters worse, Leto (who, to be fair, has done some excellent work in movies like Panic Room, American Psycho and Requiem for a Dream) opts to brandish a rather nasally high-pitched squeak of a voice, which makes Chapter 27 feel like a straight-faced parody of Capote. And I don't think that's what Leto and Company were going for.
So the bulk of the flick sees Leto as Chapman walking through the park, lazing in hotel rooms and standing around outside John Lennon's apartment building, which is where he occasionally stops to talk with other fans -- but mostly he just wanders around while his voice-over narration rambles on about Holden Caulfield blah blah and John Lennon yadda yadda. It's drier than burnt toast and about as tasty. Popping up randomly (and to no discernible effect, really) in front of the apartment building are Jude (Lindsay Lohan) and Paul (Judah Friedlander), but aside from a few brief volleys of vapid chit-chat with the eventual murderer, they sure don't do a whole heckuva lot. (For the record, Friedlander delivers the only interesting line in the whole movie while Lohan wisely underplays her skimpily-written role.)
On the whole Chapter 27 feels like thirty pages of script in a 90-minute frame, and a vanity project for an actor willing to go the extra distance even if the screenplay doesn't really warrant all the effort. I was hoping to gain some insight as to who Mark Chapman actually was, and why he committed such a horrible crime; I walked out of Chapter 27 still wondering who the guy was -- and why the hell he liked Catcher in the Rye so damn much.