Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Wishing someone had Choke(d) me so i wouldn't have had to see this

Fox Searchlight's Choke
Actor-turned-director Clark Gregg shows he is as adept behind the camera as in front of it with Choke, a wickedly colorful dark comedy about mothers and sons, sexual compulsion, and the sordid underbelly of Colonial theme parks. Victor Mancini, a sex-addicted med-school dropout, keeps his increasingly deranged mother, Ida, in an expensive private mental hospital by working days as a historical reenactor. At night he runs a scam where he deliberately chokes in upscale restaurants to form parasitic relationships with the wealthy patrons who "save" him. When, in a rare lucid moment, Ida reveals that she has withheld the shocking truth of his father's identity, Victor must enlist the aid of his best friend, Denny, a recovering chronic masturbator, and his mother's beautiful attending physician, Dr. Paige Marshall, to solve this mystery before the truth of his possibly divine parentage is lost forever. Adapted from the acclaimed novel by Chuck Palahniuk, Choke tickles the funny bone as it dives into darker areas of human behavior. At the heart of the film is yet another staggering performance by Sam Rockwell as Victor. He fully inhabits the character and nails both the comedic and dramatic aspects with indelible timing and delivery. A delicious blend of fresh writing, juicy performances, and sharp directing, Choke is actually quite easy to swallow.
In his off hours, Victor attends 12-step meetings to cope with his sex addiction, although he's there mostly to meet women. He reserves most of his energy for a scam in which he chokes on food in the hopes of getting Heimliched by wealthy patrons on whom he can leech for a few months. The chatty narrative track assures us this con has worked in the past, although we never see real evidence of it in the film. The dramatic throughline of "Choke" follows Victor's actual emotional involvement with Paige Marshall (Kelly Macdonald)his mother's doctor and a bit of a hothouse flower herself. As touching as Macdonald is, most of the film's interest lies on the sidelines, in secondary characters such as the little old lady convinced Victor once touched her "woo-woo," or the theme park's lovelorn manager, played by the director himself. Great swatches of narration have been imported from book to screen, and while Rockwell delivers these with sardonic ease, the approach is still the opposite of cinema. Palahniuk fans will get what they came for and come away scratching their heads, because Gregg has mistaken the literal for the literary. He has fashioned an amiable Xerox that stubbornly refuses to shock like the real thing.
Choke is disappointing not for what it is but what it could have been. It's watchable enough and at times quite engaging, but that's the problem: A story about a sex addict who works as a colonial re-enactor when he's not feigning choking to death at expensive restaurants should be more than just watchable. It should be as transgressive as its hero. It should cut and it should bleed. It should hurt, in other words, as much as "Fight Club," the last movie made out of a Chuck Palahniuk novel. Where that film's director, David Fincher, is a born filmmaker, Clark Gregg, the actor-turned-director of "Choke," seems like a really nice guy. I'm not sure where nice guys finish in Palahniuk's dark universe, but it's probably not first. It was ok, but it just didn't seem to get to where it should've been. A weary 3 on my "Go See' scale.

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