'Chapman' is dull and thinly plotted

Seeing 'Chapman' Not recommended here.

There's a fine line between teasing out a mystery and trying audiences' patience, but the crawlingly paced drama "Chapman" is nowhere near that line. Rather, writer-director Justin Owensby's debut poses a dismally dull question and disappoints with his answer.

The film's protagonist, locksmith Alex Fletcher (Jesse Johnson), is a puzzle — one part foul-mouthed cool guy, two parts mopey sad sack. A letter compels him back to his woodsy hometown in Colorado, where he huffs paint thinner to endure the memory of whatever he'd been running away from.

Most of his visits are to the liquor store, though one is to a graveyard, where Owensby coyly pans out his camera so the identity of the deceased remains unknown. Flashbacks to wholesome summers of yore suggest a teenage tragedy that befell Alex's best friend Paul (Alex Saxon) or first love Marie (Caitlin Thompson) or both. But the characters too are nebulously defined to command emotional investment; they aren't even shadowed in enough to qualify as archetypes.

A few moments of diversion distract from Owensby's stalling. Interrupting the gloomy mood are a grotesque sex scene and Alex's playful bellhop costume, which he dons after a (different) bedroom encounter ends in the woman stealing his clothes.

The gratingly underdeveloped plot has all the dramatic effect of a toddler with her hands behind her back chirping, "Guess what I've got?" for more than an hour.

"Chapman." No MPAA rating. Running time: 1 hour, 24 minutes. At Laemmle's Music Hall 3, Beverly Hills.

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