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Entries in Choke [2008] (1)

Saturday
Jan232010

Choke, 2008 (Home Video Review)

The Gag's on Us

Choke is the perfect first-R-rated-movie for twelve-year-old boys. It features a damaged anti-hero named Victor Mancini, who has lots of interesting sex with random hot women, and who comes to believe he’s the son of God (actually, the half-clone of the son of God). Victor swears a lot and rails against his sickly mother, and has no interest in girls outside of their sexual organs. Were Choke to feature at least one car chase or explosion, it may have been this generation’s underground tween-boy sensation.

Sadly, Choke, which is based on Chuck Palahniuk’s novel, is nothing more than 89 minutes of supposedly shocking behavior, punctuated by the occasionally interesting half-scene or genuine moment. I had to watch the film in two parts because the boredom caused my mind to wander and eventually put me to sleep—at 8:30 on a Friday night. The weird thing is, Choke is not boring due to an excessive amount of talking or meandering camerawork; no, it simply thinks it’s way edgier than it actually is, and that’s the death knell of both stand-up comedy (props, again, to Patton Oswalt) and cinema. I didn’t think it was possible to yawn at a film about a sex addict who was abducted by a crazy woman as an infant, only to grow up to become a colonial re-enactor and learn that he may or may not have been immaculately conceived during a ritual involving the foreskin of Christ—but writer/director Clark Gregg made this awesome feat possible.

What’s most frustrating is that there is a decent movie buried way under the anal beads and the rape fantasies. You don’t get much more compelling than Sam Rockwell as the lead and Angelica Houston as his illegitimate mom, but they both suffocate under the weight of numerous zero-context flashbacks and a screenplay that kind of cares about them, but that really just wants to get back to talking about Victor’s other day-job, wherein he pretends to choke on food at restaurants so that he can be rescued by well-to-do patrons. The scenes between these two actors are touching and strange—Victor has committed his mother to a hospital because of early-onset Alzheimer’s—and they should have comprised the A story in this movie; instead, they must compete with a sub-plot involving Victor’s masturbation-addicted best friend falling in love with a stripper who helps him build a monument made out of rocks.

I haven’t read the book on which Choke is based, but as a fan of some of Palahniuk’s other work, I can only assume that Clark Gregg missed the point entirely in adapting the material for the screen. Palahniuk trades in the unacceptable behavior of society’s fringe, and threads themes of parental abandonment, modern masculinity, and Messiah complexes through his books; but this is the first of his stories that I’ve seen that puts all of his quirky, disgusting anecdotes and character asides on full display with equal importance. The author’s most popular book (and film adaptation), Fight Club, was full of unconventional characters, sex, violence, and big ideas; but they all gelled. I never felt like I was taking in art that was trying too hard to impress the unshockable. With Choke, the freak show overpowers the melodrama, and by the time the Big Twist rolls around (which involves Kelly Macdonald as a woman who insists on having sex with Victor in the hospital’s chapel so that they can use the stem cells from their union to cure Alzheimer’s), I’d completely tuned out.

Had Gregg and company taken another pass or two at the script, Choke may have been worth watching. As it stands, the movie plays out as if it had a dyslexic editor. The charm of Chuck Palahniuk’s novels lies in not just the subject matter, but also in their prose and narrative clarity. The man knows how to fashion a solid through-line, and he keeps the detours colorful and focused. The film version of Choke is nothing but detours; and as colorful as they may be, my adult mind couldn’t help but be frustrated by all the tits and rock sculpture.