BY DAN BUSKIRK FILM CRITIC
Just when you think only the most crassly commercial equations account for what films get made, you’re stuck trying to explain the appearance of a new film on rock villain Mark David Chapman. Could any public figure be less of a box-office draw? Everyone’s least favorite “Fifth Beatle” Chapman was the mentally ill assassin who vacillated between thinking he was Holden Caulfield from J.D. Salinger’s Catcher In the Rye and John Lennon, a delusion that ended with Chapman shooting down the rock icon in front of The Dakota in December of 1980. A distressingly meaningless crime, I was curious how its mundane details could be made cinematic and considered that even if the film did capture something profound about the killing the reviews could still be awful.
Outside of the fascination in seeing Requiem For A Dream‘s Jared Leto bloat up with an extra sixty-seven pounds, there is little insight to be gained watching Lennon’s stalker in Chapter 27. The film follows Chapman’s final three days of freedom as he flies to New York City to wait for Lennon outside of the Dakota. His plan already decided upon, his mania pretty-much unabated, Chapter 27 is a one-note snore that is about as enlightening as listening to the rants of any poor street person for a couple of hours.
Kudos to Leto’s Raging Bull-moment, he is truly unrecognizable as Chapman, his doughy body lurching along tentatively while his eyes appear like two bruises beneath his tinted glasses. His performance is a sort De Niro two-fer, with Jake LaMotta-esque bulk Leto lurks around like Travis Bickle in Taxi Driver, drawing his pistol in mildewed hotel rooms, being a creepy date to fellow Lennon-head Lindsey Lohan and narrating his adventure with an oddly disengaged drawl. This mild riffing on Scorsese is about as close to an idea as young first-time director J.P. Schaefer has for his debut, perhaps oblivious to the fact that it was wouldbe Reagan assassin John Hinckley who had the Taxi Driver obsession, not Chapman.
This project has always had an unsavory taint to it, by titling his story Chapter 27, a reference to the twenty-six chapters of Chapman’s Bible, The Catcher In The Rye , the film could be accused of glamorizing Chapman’s celebrity. Instead, Chapter 27 inadvertently gets at another truth, that despite film’s endlessly histrionic portrayal of mental illness, being out of your head doesn’t automatically transform someone ordinary into someone interesting. Stuck with the stubborn facts of Chapman’s senseless crime, Chapter 27 is unable to transform the assassination of a cultural icon into something more profound than the warped, violent and ultimately meaningless fantasia of an angry, addled and heavily-armed loner granted a window of tragic opportunity.