Since leaving medical school, sex addict Victor Mancini (Sam Rockwell) has worked tirelessly to keep his mentally deranged mother (Anjelica Huston) in a private nursing home. By day, he's a "historical recreationist" at a local colonial village. By night, he travels to various restaurants around town and pretends to choke. Once saved, he hits up his good Samaritan marks for any and all kinds of financial assistance. Desperate to learn who his father is, Victor teams up with a new doctor named Paige Marshall (Kelly MacDonald) to decipher his mother's memories, as well as translate an old diary which may provide some clues. Of course, in between consultations, it's nothing but fornication and copulation.
Choke has one of those titles which describes its success as a film to a succinct single syllable. Like the talented athlete who can't get his team into the playoffs, or a golfer that muffs the easy putt for championship glory, Gregg's riff on Palahniuk's concepts (the film varies somewhat from the book) never delivers the knockout blow. Instead, we end up with several interesting narrative threads that barely hold together.
At any given moment, we are intrigued by Victor's rate of random intercourse, his unusual past with his nonconformist mother, the beefy best friend Denny (well played by Brad William Henke) who can't stop touching himself, and the determined doctor offering hope to our hapless hero. But Gregg can't locate a way to connect the dots, to make the various outlandish allusions add up to something substantial. Instead, Choke is a movie of moments -- some good, some groan-inducing, and a few that make no friggin' sense whatsoever. But thanks to aggressive turns by Rockwell and a beaming Huston (she steals every scene she is in, including the '70s-spiced flashbacks), we are willing to stick with the struggles.
Gregg clearly forgets that most of Palahniuk's prose is punditry. Fight Club centered on the emasculation of the modern male. Survivor mocked our always-crass consumerism. By making the title con a mere sidebar, by substituting another "twist ending" for more of the author's takes on addiction and conspiracy theorizing, Gregg undercuts the meaning of his movie. Instead, he hopes to get by on the oddness of ideas, the jarring juxtaposition between a parent dying of Alzheimer's and a son who can't keep his libido in check. Toss in Victor's unusual possible ancestry (let's just say he's entitled to a God complex) and you've got nothing but nutty non-sequiturs.
Still, if one is capable of completely forgetting the normative needs of a movie, if they can back off from the occasionally confrontational approaches to simply enjoy some fine performances, Choke will go down easy. All the shock and schlock posturing will have very little influence on your possible enjoyment. But for anyone who found Fight Club a manifesto for a less-numbing new world order, Gregg's interpretation of this part of Palahniuk will feel like a minor message at best.
Late for the Renaissance faire.
Run time: 92 mins
In Theaters: Thursday 30th October 2008
Box Office USA: $2.8M
Box Office Worldwide: $3.8M
Distributed by: Fox Searchlight
Contactmusic.com: 2.5 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 54%
Fresh: 74 Rotten: 64
IMDB: 6.5 / 10
Director: Clark Gregg
Producer: Beau Flynn, Tripp Vinson, Temple Fennell
Screenwriter: Clark Gregg
Starring: Anjelica Huston as Ida J. Mancini, Kelly Macdonald as Paige Marshall, Sam Rockwell as Victor Mancini, Clark Gregg as Lord High Charlie, Brad William Henke as Denny, Bijou Phillips as Ursula, Gillian Jacobs as Cherry Daiquiri / Beth, Chuck Palahniuk as Passenger (uncredited), Heather Burns as Internet Date / Gwen, Matt Gerald as Detective Ryan, Joel Grey as Phil, Paz de la Huerta as Nico
Also starring: Beau Flynn