Choke (Fox Searchlight, R)

choke.jpgThat said, I was surprised to find that the trailer for the film version of Choke actually looked halfway decent, and I was kind of looking forward to seeing it. I knew I was setting myself up to fail — how good could it possibly be if I hated the source material? — but that didn’t keep me from running out and seeing it the first opportunity I had.

 

 

 

 

I read Chuck Palahniuk’s novel Choke around the time that it was released and hated it. Hate hate hated it. Although I liked the novel Fight Club, I quickly found Palahniuk to be a one-trick pony, and all of his tired old games were on display and dumber than ever in Choke: kinky sex, support groups, nihilism for trendiness’s sake (granted, that was a trend that he helped repopularize, but still). There were no good new ideas, and the whole ordeal read like a book that the publisher strong-armed him into writing so as to appeal to the people who liked Fight Club so much, so that they could cash in on his newfound popularity. But in reality, as much as I love to blame the studios/publishers/The Man, it felt to me that Palahniuk himself was the problem, and that he would probably never write a good book again.

That said, I was surprised to find that the trailer for the film version of Choke actually looked halfway decent, and I was kind of looking forward to seeing it. I knew I was setting myself up to fail — how good could it possibly be if I hated the source material? — but that didn’t keep me from running out and seeing it the first opportunity I had.

Choke was adapted for the screen and directed by character actor Clark Gregg (who also plays a small, relatively self-deprecating role here), whose name you might have seen pop up way down in the cast credits on Iron Man, Magnolia or The Usual Suspects. This is his first solo writing credit and first directing credit, but he managed to call together a team of people I really like to help him make this film: it stars the much-beloved Sam Rockwell (Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, Snow Angels) as Victor Mancini, the sex-addicted overgrown child who occasionally will fake choking in a restaurant in order to be saved by someone nearby and wealthy who will then look after him financially by some unspoken tie they get from thinking that they saved his life.

The bulk of the conflict in the film comes from the introduction of his mother’s doctor, Paige Marshall (Kelly Macdonald, of Trainspotting and No Country for Old Men fame), with whom Victor gets infatuated and has to try and abandon his old sex addict ways in order to impress. He’s supported by his serial masturbator friend Denny (Brad William Henke, the guy who posted the creepy notes in his window in Me & You & Everyone We Know) in his various endeavors. It’s shot by David Gordon Green’s usual cinematographer, Tim Orr, and even the sadly underused Matt Molloy pops up in a small role. So, while Gregg might not know how to pick a source novel, he sure does have some skill in getting a lot of talented people all together in a room all at once.

For a while, it feels like Choke is to Fight Club as Guy Ritchie is to Quentin Tarantino, meaning that they try to follow a formula on something very singular and recognizable for not having come from a formula (and fail miserably in trying to emulate it), but eventually the cast wins you over: they’re all so likeable. What it comes down to, really, is that a lot of talented people came together to make a bad movie, but said people are talented enough that they make the bad movie worth seeing. Let’s just hope that next time they use their skills for something a little more worthwhile. | Pete Timmermann

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