Movie Review: Choke


Brad William Henke and Sam Rockwell in Choke
Photo: Fox Searchlight

The audience for Choke will be split among two groups of people. Those that haven’t read the Chuck Palahniuk novel the film is based on and those that have. Those that haven’t read the book are likely to call it raunchy and crude while those that have read the book will be more inclined to call it tame and only a shell of the story Palahniuk told on paper. I fall in the latter group and it is the main reason I wasn’t all that shocked by the subject matter or intrigued by the storytelling. Then again, if anyone told me this film was overly raunchy or rude I would have to disagree even if I hadn’t read the book. I may have a relatively high tolerance for that kind of stuff, but this film may bump up against the edge, but it isn’t pushing it.

Choke tells the story of Victor Mancini played by Sam Rockwell, quite possibly the only actor that should play the role. Rockwell is one of Hollywood’s most underrated actors and he certainly has the acting chops necessary for a character such as Victor as if the role had been written with him in mind. Victor is something of a con artist who goes to restaurants and forces himself to choke on food only to have an unsuspecting guest at the same restaurant save him and then form an emotional attachment of which Victor can feed off. On top of this he works at a colonial re-enactment theme park with his best friend Denny (Brad William Henke), a chronic masturbator. Oh, and did I forget to say Victor is also a sex addict? Yeah, that’s part of his repertoire as well.

The story has no real direction at the outset, but it all builds to something of a character builder for Victor through sex, lies and potential divine parenting. The film is meant as a dark comedy that will shock the innocent and feed the immature. The only problem being that the book was so much more extreme the film just feels like it is going through the motions and I am not sure the build-up to the payoff is going to be enough to satisfy those unfamiliar with the film’s source material.

Actor turned writer/director, Clark Gregg, helmed the pic and even plays a small role in the film. Gregg fought for a long time to get the story on screen and I give him credit for getting it made and picked up by a major distributor, but as I wrote in an editorial over a year ago this is a film you can’t make without it being NC-17. The raunch in Palahniuk’s story is extremely sexual, but it isn’t gratuitous, while it feels as if everything in the story may only be feeding our prurient interests the ending reveals there is much more to the story using the overly sexual situations to its advantage.

My advice is to certainly read the book before considering the movie. While Gregg has made a nice little film it just doesn’t live up to the source material which had much more substance. Then again, I am speaking from a rather biased viewpoint and you may want to judge for yourself.