Jared Leto put on some 60 pounds to play John Lennon assassin Mark David Chapman, a feat that some have likened to Robert De Niro’s transformative weight gain for “Raging Bull.”
Well, there’s nothing raging about “Chapter 27.”
The feature debut from writer-director Jarrett Schaefer is a lethargic, ponderous slog that feels much longer than its brief running time. Schaefer relies too heavily on voiceover to convey Chapman’s inner state, but he provides little insight.
We know Chapman was obsessed with J.D. Salinger’s “The Catcher in the Rye” and even went so far as to believe he was the book’s protagonist, Holden Caulfield. But over the three days in December 1980 when Chapman stands outside the Dakota apartment building in New York, waiting for Lennon to emerge so he can shoot him, he thinks clunky, literal thoughts about the fact that, you guessed it!, he believes he’s Holden and wants to kill John Lennon.
Leto does resemble Chapman with his black hair, double chin and oversized glasses. Schaefer makes sure to have him loll about the hotel room several times in his tighty-whities to show off his jelly belly and his man boobs, the price this typically lean actor is willing to pay for his art. But mimicry alone isn’t acting, and the raspy whisper-scream he uses for his interior monologues is annoyingly gimmicky, and it grates quickly.
Lindsay Lohan appears in a few scenes as a Lennon fan named, wait for it, Jude, who also stands outside the Dakota all day and inexplicably can’t figure out that Chapman is one odd dude. It makes absolutely no sense that she would befriend this obviously off-putting person; aside from her Lennon obsession, which many fostered back then and some do still, she seems like a perky, sweet, well-adjusted young woman. (And since “Chapter 27” was filmed a couple years ago, long before Lohan’s well-documented troubles with the law and substance abuse, it serves as a bittersweet snapshot of a simpler time for the magnetic young actress.)
Certainly, we know there’s something seriously wrong with this guy. We know it before we even walk into the theatre. And the knowledge that he’s going to empty a revolver into Lennon’s back by the time the film’s done should provide a palpable sense of tension from the very beginning. Think of the sensations of dread and fear the excellent “United 93” caused, for example.
Schaefer squanders that possibility completely with his languid pacing and simplistic script, which he based on Jack Jones’ collection of interviews, “Let Me Take You Down: Inside the Mind of Mark David Chapman.” (The film’s title comes from “The Catcher in the Rye,” which ended at chapter 26.)
“I’m going to tell you what happened to me right around last Christmas, those three days in New York City,” Chapman narrates at the film’s start. And later, as he’s walking toward Lennon’s home: “I went up to the Dakota, the strange building on the Upper West Side of Manhattan.” Later still, to no one in particular: “I’m going to kill to John Lennon.”
You don’t say!
Probably the most ironic (and cringe-inducing) statement of all comes as Chapman is railing against the movies: “I hate the movies. They’re phony.” Right, except it’s the unwatchable ones – such as “Chapter 27” – that draw attention to their phoniness.
There is one scene, though, that offers a bit of intrigue. The night before the murder, Chapman picks up the phone and orders a prostitute to come to his hotel room. He figures he wants a little female companionship, since it may be his last opportunity. He wants her to be exotic and he doesn’t want her to talk – he’ll pay her extra if she doesn’t talk.
Once she arrives you wonder, what’s going to happen? This person who is so socially maladjusted, how will he behave in this situation?
For a moment or two, it’s almost enough to make you imagine a better movie.
“Chapter 27,” a Peace Arch release, is rated R for language and some sexual content. Running time: 83 minutes. One star out of four.