I can just picture "Fight Club" director David Fincher watching "Choke" thinking to himself "Oh, Dude. No, man. You missed so many opportunities."
That's the feeling I had while leaving the theatre after watching "Choke," a Clark Gregg directed adaptation of a novel by Chuck Palahniuk (author of "Fight Club").
"Choke" is a good film. Heck, in given moments "Choke" is a freakin' awesome film. Sam Rockwell gives yet another brilliant performance that is unlikely to be recognized anywhere.
The problem is "Choke" should have been a GREAT film.
In "Choke," Rockwell is Victor Mancini, a man with massively unresolved mommy issues from a childhood of abandonment and inconsistent parenting. The man-child that has resulted from this experience is an under-achieving re-enactor in a historical theme park, a sex addict whose prone to grabbing a quickie virtually anyplace with any woman he meets, and a guy with an uncontrollable urge to choke in finer restaurants so that he can be rescued.
You see, he's figured out that those who rescue him feel a sort of responsibility for him. That responsibility typically results in financial gifts that have allowed him to keep his mother (Anjelica Huston) in a private care facility.
"Choke" is a fine line film. "Choke" could easily have been a better film, but "Choke" could have just as easily gone down the crapper.
"Choke" never goes down the crapper, thanks to a performance by Rockwell that gets inside the skin of Mancini and makes this rather pathetic, underachieving, con artist of a man someone you can't help but root for and feel genuine sympathy for along the way.
Mancini's life is turned a bit upside down when he comes across one of his mother's new doctors, Paige Marshall (Kelly MacDonald), a woman who challenges his entire way of thinking with a few twists and turns along the way.
Gregg does a nice job of winding "Choke" through its layers of comedy that seem constantly grounded upon a firm layer of tragedy. What keeps "Choke" from reaching greatness, at least the "Fight Club" level of greatness, is that "Choke" simply feels incomplete.
Victor's best friend, an obsessive masturbator who finds a bit of happiness of his own? Who really cares?
Dr. Marshall's own shifts and revelations? They feel oddly uninvolving.
While it's easy to understand a man-child's devotion to his mother, the relationship between Victor and his mother, as well, is never fleshed out. The resolution feels simply too detached. This was a journey I should have cared about, and despite solid performances from Rockwell and Huston, I simply didn't.
While "Choke" lacks the stylishness of "Fight Club," adding such style would have been inappropriate to the film's goings on. "Choke" is an earthier novel than "Fight Club," and Gregg's sense of realism heightens the absurdity of everything.
While "Choke" doesn't reach the heights of "Fight Club," a film that itself never really attracted an audience until it reached home video, it's a solid adaptation of Palahniuk's novel with cohesive performances from the four leads and a stand-out performance from Rockwell.
Admit it. You're expecting me to say that director Clark Gregg "choked."
Gregg didn't choke.
Admit it. You're secretly hoping I'll make a joke about swallowing now.
See, I don't even have to...it's there. It's in your head. Your chuckling to yourself and I haven't even gone there.
"Choke" is THAT kind of film. It plants the idea in your head...it gets it in there just deep enough that you can't ignore it...and then it twists it a little bit.
Funny, dark, irreverent and a little sweet with a twist...that's "Choke."
by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic