Give Chuck Palahniuk this: he might be a ham-fisted provocateur, but at least his writing elicits a reaction. Choke, Clark Gregg’s new film based on the Portland author’s 2001 novel, doesn’t even come close. Reading Palahniuk’s books is like walking into a bathroom after someone else has emptied their bowels. The “author” is very satisfied, sure, but you’re left dealing with the stench they’ve left behind.
Give Chuck Palahniuk this: he might be a ham-fisted provocateur, but at least his writing elicits a reaction.
Choke, Clark Gregg’s new film based on the Portland author’s 2001 novel, doesn’t even come close.
Reading Palahniuk’s books is like walking into a bathroom after someone else has emptied their bowels. The “author” is very satisfied, sure, but you’re left dealing with the stench they’ve left behind.
No, I’m not exactly a fan of Palahniuk’s writing.
And while it may be unfair to compare all of his written work to the smelly brown stuff, it’s telling that Palahniuk’s offensive bombast is preferable to the middling sensibility on display in Gregg’s new adaptation.
Choke is about a sex addict named Victor who works as a “historical interpreter” at a colonial reenactment tourism attraction. This is the principal joke of the movie.
He has a crazy acid-burnout mother, who gave him an equally crazy childhood. This is the principal drama.
Victor also runs a scam where he pretends to choke on food at fancy restaurants, sponging off the affections of his rescuers for as long as he can. This is where the title comes from. (Telling quote: “If somebody saves your life, they’ll love you forever. Play it right, and they’ll send you cash.”)
As Victor tries to come to grips with his sex addiction, he’s also hoping to find answers to the mystery of his paternal heritage, but it’s hard going when the only person with the answer to his riddle thinks he’s a lawyer named Fred.
Choke is, at moments, entertaining and heartfelt, demonstrating a deep pathos through Sam Rockwell’s portrayal of Victor. But mostly, the plotline feels false and vaguely sitcom-like. The characters seem to change and evolve at random, and mainly serve as pillars holding up the next scene for slightly comic riffing.
When characters start announcing that they love each other, there’s no reason to believe them. Every single person, from Victor’s mother, to his best friend, to the inevitable love interest, don’t really seem real. And despite a last minute “nothing-is-as-is-appears” twist, that feeling never goes away.
Choke is interesting as a companion to Fight Club, the first movie based on a Palahniuk novel. In that film, the failing mind of the main character shapes the world around him in the image of his insanity. In Choke, Victor is perfectly sane, but those people outside of himself force their twisted perspective upon his psyche. Both films reach their denouement after the constructions of fettered minds break into reality.
First-time director Gregg was clearly not up to the task of handling Palahniuk’s material and whether this is the book’s fault or not, isn’t apparent. The movie is paced awkwardly, and even at a mercifully short 90 minutes, feels longer than it is.
The problem with Choke is that it’s not funny enough to be a comedy, not honest enough to say something true and certainly not beautiful enough to just be nice to look at. It’s aggressively mediocre. And that ultimately means Choke is a waste of time.
Choke2 starsNow playing in multiple theaters