Victor Mancini (Sam Rockwell) is a sex addict who only goes to group therapy meetings so he can hook up with other sex maniacs who have fallen off the wagon. When he isn’t working as a “historical interpreter” at a local colonial theme park, he’s caring for his sick mother (Anjelica Huston) who is suffering from dementia and slowly wasting away in a nursing home. Victor also cruises fancy restaurants where he purposefully chokes on food so that eager customers will give him the Heimlich maneuver. Since they feel indebted to Victor for saving his life, they’ll even send him Christmas cards filled with money, which he uses to pay for his mother’s ever increasing medical bills.
There are a lot of other little side plots running around too. Like Victor’s romance with a sweet doctor (Kelly Macdonald) who wants to save his mother using stem cell technology. And Victor’s best friend Denny (Brad Henke); a chronic masturbator who trades out beating his meat for rock collecting. Oh, and Victor also learns that he might actually be a clone of Jesus Christ as well.
Very rarely do I ever get a chance to read a book before they get around to making a movie out of it, but I actually read the Chuck (Fight Club) Palahniuk novel this film is based on when it was first released. I enjoyed it (although admittedly it read a lot like Fight Club Lite) but always thought it would be tough to adapt. I mean you can read a book where the main character is basically a douche the whole time and it doesn’t really matter because it’s a fucking book. In a movie however you need a hero you can root for. Screenwriter/director Clark (Iron Man) Gregg deftly sugarcoated a lot of Palahniuk’s nihilism and turns Victor into a much more likable character than he was in the book and that little change makes all the difference. This is the rare case where the movie is actually better than the book.
The first time director Gregg (who also co-stars as Victor’s jealous boss) shows a lot of style behind the camera too. I particularly loved the way Gregg showed what’s really going on in Victor’s head whenever he meets a woman for the first time. (I wouldn’t dream of spoiling it here, but it’s safe to say that every guy does this.) I also dug how he portrayed Victor’s way of “holding back” his orgasms. (Again, I won’t spoil it for you, but if you’re a guy, chances are you’ve done this too.)
The performances are all great. Rockwell is amazing and he endears his skuzzy character to the audience nicely. If someone else was in the role, I don’t think they could’ve pulled that tricky feat off. Huston is also good as his demented mother and the duo share some pretty memorable moments together. I’ve never heard of Henke before but he is excellent and he makes a good counterbalance to Rockwell. Even though he may flog his dolphin fifteen times a day, he’s basically just a big teddy bear.
Choke is a lot of fun for most of its running time until it slowly loses its way about ¾ of the way through. There are a few too many loose plot strands that endlessly chase their tail and never gets wrapped up satisfactorily. For example, in the book Denny built a giant stone structure that figured into the climax. Here, it’s just a little throwaway. I didn’t really mind that the flick ran on a bit too long because it’s kinda like going on a Sunday drive: If the scenery is pleasant and the company is good, it doesn’t really matter if it takes you a little longer to reach your destination.
Macdonald gets the best line of the movie when she tells Rockwell: “This has nothing to do with love or commitment. I simply want your seed!”
Choke isn’t quite good enough to make it onto the Video Vacuum Top Ten of the Year but it gets an Honorable Mention. If there was such thing as a Top Eleven List, it would surely be sitting pretty at the 11 spot though.