Movie Reviews: “Choke” Strangles its own Audience

September 29, 2008  

By Matt Carter

Grade: C+

Clark Gregg’s “Choke” is one of the few movies I’ve seen that manages to confuse me even after I’ve watched and read about it. What exactly happens over the course of this film? I can’t exactly say precisely. It is relatively funny, and those willing to look past all of its flaws may find something to like here. It’s a spot-on adaptation of the Chuck Palahniuk book of the same name, but this is really a film that most people will love or hate. I guess I’m not most people since I find it rather average as a whole.

The movie itself is about Victor (Sam Rockwell), a sex addict who regularly attends meetings and works on the side at a ridiculous 18th-century-themed park for children. The man’s life is based on a number of complicated relationships, from that of his dying mom (Anjelica Huston) to his sex-addicted best friend Denny (Brad Henke) to even that of the doctors and patients at the local nursing home. One of them, Paige Marshall (Kelly MacDonald), soon becomes the target of Victor’s affections, and his life starts to take a turn towards morality. However, all the while you have to remember this story was written by the same guy as “Fight Club,” so if you think you know where the plot is going you’re liable to be surprised.

One thing I will say to “Choke’s” credit is that it never ceases to provide some funny moments. Rockwell is great at playing up his character’s manic tendencies, and the scenes involving sex intervention alongside working as a peasant during the American Revolution are some of the most creative pieces of film I’ve seen in a long time. The problem is just that there’s three different movies wedged into one here—a coming-of-age tale, a slapstick comedy, and a family drama—and they don’t mesh as well as you’d like them to. The frequent flashbacks to Victor’s childhood are ineffective and rather useless at times for progressing the plot, and the same could be said for some of the scenes involving the senior citizens at the hospital. It’s almost as if the director tried to throw as much in as possible in hopes viewers would grasp hold of something.

Then there’s of course the element of choking, which Victor initially starts to do at restaurants in hopes of conning the poor suckers willing to save them. I understand why he does it (as a plot for attention), but the repetition of the act doesn’t make it gel any better into the film. The misuse of time early in the film ruins the end in a sense, as well. The twists are in fact rather unpredictable, but there’s nothing that really ever makes us as viewers want to root for Victor. Maybe that’s the point, that not all characters are going to change over the course of a 90-minute film. I just wish some of the story’s loose ends were tied together better.

It should also be noted that “Choke” is incredibly liberated in terms of its allusions to sexual practices and is a very strong R. People who are easily offended should just not even bother. I’m not easily offended and some of the sexual portions of the movie even made me uncomfortable. “Choke” is a new idea and I fully respect it for that, but this movie was just a little too much of a mess for me to give it a strong recommendation. It has a ton of great, memorable scenes, but without the glue to tie it together I can’t see this working for many audiences.

“Choke” opened Sept. 26. Starring Sam Rockwell, Anjelica Huston, Kelly MacDonald, and Brad Henke. Directed by Clark Gregg. Rated R (language, graphic sex, nudity). 92 minutes.

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