Anjelica Huston and Sam Rockwell might make you gag.
CHOKE directed by Clark Gregg, with Sam Rockwell, Kelly Macdonald and Anjelica Huston. A Maple release. 92 minutes. Opens Friday (September 26). For venues and times, see Movies. Rating: NN
The first rule of choke is don't talk about Fight Club.
Actually, it's probably best if you don't know anything about Fight Club at all. That's really the only way to enjoy - or be surprised by - any of Chuck Palahniuk's subsequent books, and/or the films based upon them. Because they're all the same.
Palahniuk writes about people on the periphery of Our Conformist Society; they work weird jobs, keep weird hours, know things we Ikea-shopping sheep do not. They tell us of their specialness in great, sweeping monologues about all the ways they see through the veil of bullshit we cast over everything that matters. They're also often obsessed with bodily functions, especially sex. Oh, and they usually have a blind spot about identity issues. (See Durden, Tyler.)
Choke fits into the Palahniuk template. Victor Mancini (Sam Rockwell) works a pointless job at a colonial-era theme park, engages in random sexual encounters and attends a sex-addict therapy group when he's feeling lonely, so he can pick up desperate women. When he's particularly down, he chokes himself at restaurants so someone can save him and he can feel all nice and warm.
Victor's psychology is pretty simple - and even simpler once we meet his crazy mother (Anjelica Huston) and get flashbacks to key childhood events. But when he meets a comely young caregiver (Kelly Macdonald), he's thrown into chaos. Here's someone he wants to boink and can't.
There's more to it, of course, and this is precisely where Clark Gregg's adaptation goes wrong; he tries to play Victor's situation for sympathy rather than absurdity, and the material simply won't have it. Palahniuk's characters are usually pretty deluded, but the one thing they aren't is desperate for empathy.
Gregg wants us to hug Victor's damaged soul. As a result, Rockwell seems uncertain and blurry when he needs to be hard as a diamond.
This conflict puts Choke on a wobbly footing; Gregg isn't deft enough to capture the contempt that drives Victor's neediness. A better director could have dug more deeply into Palahniuk's contradictions... you know, like David Fincher did in that other movie we're not supposed to talk about.