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Overall Rating

Awesome: 5.56%
Worth A Look: 11.11%
Average: 11.11%
Pretty Bad: 0%
Total Crap72.22%

2 reviews, 6 user ratings

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Chapter 27
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by Peter Sobczynski

"Come Back, Julie Taymor--Almost All Is Forgiven!"
1 stars

Ever since it was announced a couple of years ago that there were plans to make a film chronicling the three days in the life of Mark David Chapman leading up to his murder of John Lennon in December 8, 1980, there has been a storm of outrage from commentators who have expressed absolute horror that anyone would dare contemplate such a thing, usually citing Yoko Ono’s expressed wish that no one speak or otherwise promote the name of the man that killed her husband and the father of her son. Although Ono has a legitimate point, one that I wouldn’t dream of second-guessing or critiquing at all, I don’t necessarily agree with the idea that the idea of making a film about Chapman is automatically monstrous in and of itself. In the right hands, I can see how a film on this subject might be made that wouldn’t glorify violence in even the slightest way and yet could possibly offer some kind of empathic look into the mind of a person so completely lacking in ordinary feeling or self-worth that the only way he could possibly conceive of expressing himself and giving value to his life would be by taking away someone else’s life with a couple of pulls of a trigger. (In fact, Terrence Malick’s brilliant 1973 debut film, “Badlands,” did just that in offering a lightly fictionalized look at the brutal crime spree committed by thrill killer Charles Starkweather in the late 1950’s.) However, it only takes a few minutes of watching the long-shelved “Chapter 27” to realize that debuting writer-director J.P. Schaefer has not given us that kind of thoughtful and nuanced exploration of Chapman and his horrible act of violence. Instead, he has given us exactly the kind of film that the naysayers feared he would make from the very beginning--a vapid, ugly and empty-headed boondoggle that offers no insights into the mind of a killer but does present us with one of the most grotesquely misconstrued star turns in movie history and a relentlessly sleazy and empty-headed tone that is so absent of any redeeming value that they make such infamously shlocky cinematic exploitations of tragedy as “Guyana: Cult of the Damned” and “Amin--The Rise and Fall” seem restrained and dignified by comparison.

For the few of you who don’t know the story, “Chapter 27” begins as Chapman (Jared Leto) arrives in New York from Hawaii, checks himself into the Y (and immediately checks out once he realizes that there are homosexuals in the building) and heads over to the famed Dakota building to join the other fans hoping to get a glimpse of its most famous resident, the former Beatle. As we soon discover through his bizarre attempts at conversation with his fellow gawkers, particularly a young woman inevitably named Jude (Lindsay Lohan), as well as from the tortured voiceover monologues that we are privy to, Chapman is a seriously disturbed individual whose obsession with the J.D. Salinger novel “The Catcher in the Rye” has led him to believe that he is some kind of reincarnation of Holden Caufield who has been put on Earth to further expose the “phonies” that the character so famously railed about in the book and for him, Lennon is the biggest phony of all because the man who once said “imagine no possessions“ happens to be a rich and happy family man after all, a sentiment that Elvis Costello suggested years later in the song “The Other Side of Summer“ and he managed to do so without killing anyone in the process. Over the next couple of days, he visit’s the locales that Holden went to on his three-day bite of the Big Apple, gets into bizarrely off-putting conversations with Jude and a tabloid photographer (Judah Friedlander) who inexplicably keep talking to him and even manages to get up close with Lennon twice in one night--the first encounter results in the superstar autographing a copy of “Double Fantasy” and the second would wind up breaking hearts across the world.

“Chapter 27” was based on “Let Me Take You Down,” the sensationalistic and poorly regarded Chapman biography/excuse based on interviews that he gave to author Jack Jones (supposedly to use his case to prevent further tragedy but really to extend the shelf life of his ignoble notoriety) and while I doubt that he had anything to do with this screen version, it is exactly the type of film depiction that might have appealed to Chapman’s narcissistic fantasies and delusions of grandeur. It offers no observations or critiques of Chapman and his behavior to speak of--instead, we are merely treated to one monotonous scene after another in which Chapman takes center stage to deliver a series of rambling monologues and recitations from “The Catcher in the Rye” while the other characters just stand around gawking at the spectacle. The script is an indigestible stew of Salinger quotes, vapid characterizations, inane dialogue (when asked if she knows where Lennon is, Jude--whose name alone is already pushing things to the breaking point--actually replies “Somewhere in New York City”) and moments of jaw-dropping tastelessness (even if it did really happen, couldn’t anyone involved with this film understand that including a scene in which Chapman chats up a five-year-old Sean Lennon and his nanny would result in the single most gauche moment in a film simply teeming with them?) that is so devoid of insight and dramatic tension that I found myself eagerly anticipating seeing the moment in which Lennon would be killed on the assumption that it would indicate that the film was almost over. And if J.P Schaefer is embarrassingly trite as a screenwriter, that is nothing compared to his directorial approach. Nearly every artistic choice that he makes, from his pretentious allusions to the likes of “Psycho” and “Taxi Driver” (two infinitely better big-screen observations into the mind of a mentally-ill psychopath) to such equally pretentious visuals as a field of rye, is a bad one and while he makes the occasional stab at realism (such as shooting outside the real-life Dakota, a move that must have thrilled Yoko Ono to pieces), other details (such as the altered depictions of the “Double Fantasy” album and the cover of a then-current “Playboy” containing Lennon’s last in-depth interview) have been fudged so ineptly (presumably because the copyright holders refused to let the film use their images) that they help grind the film to a complete stop. (The ersatz “Playboy” looks like one of those things you get at a fair with your picture and the headline “World’s Biggest Stud.”)

Of course, what really brings the film to a complete start before it has hardly begun is the element that was presumably designed to be its main selling point--the central performance from Jared Leto, who famously packed on the pounds to play the corpulent Chapman. I suppose I can understand why Leto would want to play this particular part--actors love big, showy parts in virtual one-man shows like this, especially when they involve some kind of physical transformation that they can hopefully milk into award glory if all goes well--but it soon becomes obvious that Leto’s dedication to the role most likely began and ended with his repeated trips to the breakfast buffet. This is a awful performance--shallow, devoid of insight and hampered with a bizarre voice that will remind most viewers of nothing so much as a below-average take on Truman Capote--and its awfulness is compounded by the fact that he is front and center for virtually every single one of the film’s 84 minutes. Leto has been good in the past (in projects as varied as “My So-Called Life,” “Fight Club” and “Requiem for a Dream”) and will no doubt be good again in the future, but he better thank his lucky stars that this film is only getting a token release because if more people got a load of the embarrassing histrionics he indulges in here, his entire career might wind up grinding to a complete halt. (In the interest of fairness, it should be noted that Lindsay Lohan, who signed on for this project during her long-ago period of striving for indie credibility, a seemingly long-gone that also resulted in the infinitely better “A Prairie Home Companion,” is reasonably affecting as the groupie who tries to reach out to Chapman, even though the film has no real idea of what to do with her or her character.)

Walking out of the screening of “Chapter 27” under a cloud of massive depression (and not just because I was off to see “Drillbit Taylor”), I realized that it was easy enough to determine why this film had been made in the first place--to serve as a calling card for a filmmaker who craves notoriety above artistic credibility. However, when I tried to imagine who it could have possibly been made for, I drew a total blank. Fans of the Beatles and John Lennon, of course, wouldn’t go near it if their lives depended on it., those interested in seeing a depiction of a man disintegrating under the strain of mental illness will be appalled by its startlingly superficial take on the subject and even Jared Leto fanatics still nursing crushes on Jordan Catalano will be turned off because of his bloated and blotchy appearance. The only group I can think of that might respond to it is that small and select body of people who thrive on sitting through awful and awfully tasteless exploitations of the tragic death of a celebrity taken long before his time that offers nothing but a run-through of the same squalid details that have been known for years. For those people, “Chapter 27” will serve as a cornucopia of creepy cruddiness not seen on a movie screen since that long-forgotten adaptation of “Wired” and even that film had a little more dignity and artistic credibility than this one.

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originally posted: 04/25/08 14:00:00
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2007 Sundance Film Festival For more in the 2007 Sundance Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

5/14/10 brian Chapman portrayed as a schizophrenic who gave everybody the creeps. What a shock. 3 stars
1/26/09 Flip I completely agree with this review 1 stars
1/13/09 Anonymous. jared leto always succeeds. i can't believe he put on all that weight for this. 4 stars
11/14/08 CTT Adds nothing to history; Leto tries out his DeNiro impression 3 stars
10/13/08 mr.mike Leto suceeds , therefore the film suceeds. 4 stars
4/09/08 Jasmin Give it a chance!!! Brilliant performance by Jared Leto 5 stars
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  DVD: 30-Sep-2008


  DVD: 30-Sep-2008

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