October 4, 2008

Movie Review: Choke

choke1_largeBack in 1999, David Fincher and Jim Uhls teamed to adapt a novel by author Chuck Palahniuk. That teaming resulted in the excellent Fight Club. Now, nearly a decade later, the Palahniuk catalog has been dipped into a second time. This time out it is actor Clark Gregg (New Adventures of Old Christine) taking a stab. Choke is Gregg's second credited script, following 2002's What Lies Beneath, and his first shot at directing a feature. I have not read either of these books (actually, I have not read any of Palahniuk's novels), but I have seen both of the films. If you are hoping for anything near the level of Fight Club, in either the writing or visual style, you will be left unfulfilled. If you are a fan of the book, I have read that you will likely be disappointed as well. If you merely hope for a good, involving film, I am sad to report that you, too, will be disappointed. I know I was.

choke6Sam Rockwell plays Victor Mancini, and he is a sex addict. He spends his days going to sex addict support groups, sneaking off to have sex with group members, and earns a living as a historical re-enactor at a colonial-themed amusement park. When he isn't working, or looking for a quickie, he spends considerable time with his aging mother, Ida (Anjelica Huston), who is in a psychiatric home suffering from dementia. While he spends a great deal of time with her, she rarely knows who he his, most often confusing him with a dead lawyer.

Now, if dealing with a mother suffering dementia and suffering from sex addiction is not enough, Victor also has a habit of pretending to choke in order to get a restaurant patron to throw him in the Heimlich and "save" him. Invariably, the people insist on giving him money when he is in need. This is a scam he uses to raise the money to keep his mom in the home. Then there are his abandonment issues, as shown through the numerous flashback showing Ida serially kidnapping Victor from foster families.

Early on we watch Victor go through the paces, putting on his costume, getting in trouble at work, visiting his mom, going to meetings, all normal (for him) until one day. One time when he visits his mother he meets her new doctor, Paige Marshall (Kelly Macdonald). She's young, pretty and Victor seems to genuinely like her. She also happens to have knowledge on the forefront of medical technology that could help his mother, just as it simultaneously plays into his addiction.

choke4Some inconsequential stuff happens as we build to a couple of revelations in rapid succession in the final third of the film that I will not reveal here. The problem is that the story moves so fast and the film is over in such a short period of time that the characters do not have time to sink in and resonate with the audience. Perhaps it is not the speed of the film, maybe it is the adaptation, or could it go all the way back to being a problem with the source material?

The movie just does not give too much depth to the characters or enough time to the plot. I found some of the moments humorous, such as their meeting Cherry Daquiri and the first couple of accusations from the old women at the home. I also enjoyed the performances of Sam Rockwell, Kelly Macdonald, and Anjelica Huston. Yes, I know that sounds a little odd considering how week I found the overall film to be, but it is true. Their work is good and without their effort the weakness of the material would have been further exposed.

Bottomline. In the end, this film just felt shallow. There certainly seemed to be potential for a deeper, more meaningful tale. The film, as presented has its moments of humor and tragedy, however the link between them to the audience is tenuous at best. Oh well.

Very Mildly Recommended.


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