You may think differently if you’re one of those sex addicts who gets satisfaction in seeing flashes of 60+ year old women in the nude, or holding onto the panties of the members of your Sex Anonymous meetings that you sneak off to the bathroom with.
But unless you fall within those parameters, the darkness of Choke isn’t worth sitting through for that very tiny glimpse of light that is the film’s conclusion.
Instead of seeing Choke, just order late night Cinemax. You’ll get the same poor acting, cheesy writing, but definitely more pleasure.
Based on the book by Chuck Palahniuk (author of Fight Club), Choke is composed of a plethora of warped themes. Victor (Sam Rockwell, who actually suits the part well) is a sex addict who blames his addiction on not having any type of familial backbone growing up. His mother consistently stole him from his various foster parents, and now, later in his life, he wants to know the truth about the identity of his father. But his mother (Angelica Huston) is in a mental asylum. She no longer recognizes Victor, and in order to continue paying her bills, he fake chokes on food in restaurants, has somebody save him, and then exploits their good Samaritan praises by having them loan him money. In the meantime, he meets an attractive nurse that he is, strangely, unable to have sex with, and finds ways to pass the time by working in a mock colonial tourist village. Oh yeah, I forgot to mention that the crazy people in the hospital think Victor is the second coming of Christ.
The problem with Choke is that it barely skims the surface of each of the book’s many themes. I don’t have to have read the book to know this. After all, any worthwhile story better connects us with the main character’s ideals and relationships. It better explains the fugitive relationship between Victor and his delusional mother; the nonsensical demands of Victor’s love interest, nurse Paige Marshall (Kelly Macdonald); the reasoning why a random stripper can tear apart the concrete relationship between Victor and his best friend, Denny (Brad William Henke); and how all of these elements can possibly be resolved with any type of rationality whatsoever.
It really wanted to, but Choke was too afraid to give audiences anything with substance. It was too scared of committing itself to any of its relationships. It was too nervous to open itself up to anything beyond masturbation jokes and nudity. So maybe, on second thought, the whole movie needs to check into a sex clinic.
But if the book is indeed as arbitrary as the movie’s themes (which I highly doubt), then one needs to ask themself if the story is indeed worth adapting in the first place. Filmmakers sometimes feel obligated to get their stories from books because “everything’s already been done.” But that’s a lazy excuse. The purpose of adaptation is to bring the book’s content to life: give it personality, give it creativity, add some relevant music. Writer/director Clark Gregg decided not to do any of this. It’s not a good sign when a 90-minute movie narrates as slowly as a multi-hundred paged book, and uses the same content you can find reading Spark Notes.
Gregg just doesn’t excite us with anything screenworthy. He banks on dialogue and relationships to navigate through the story. But, sadly, both remain underdeveloped. We’re not motivated to dive into the story of Choke. Thus, the film just becomes a random collage of talking heads and unappetizing sex acts. And if that’s all you’re looking for in a film, you might as well go for gold with the John Waters film collection.
The bottom line: audiences shouldn’t have to read the book to understand the themes’ meanings in the adapted film. It would have been better off if it had just focused heavily on a few of the book’s elements, as opposed to grazing the surface of all of them. You can see the potential in Choke, but (and I hate to say it) it just flat out chokes.
1-1/2 Stars (out of four) for Choke.